Forest diversity is a good thing for wildlife. Thick forests with the same age of trees and a thick canopy overhead result in poor forage for elk, deer and other critters. If you’re talking ponderosa pine stands in Montana or towering oaks in Arkansas, the same lesson applies.
“Our forests need to be managed, so they don’t transition to more shade-tolerant tree species that have reduced value for the wildlife,” said Martin Blaney, statewide habitat program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Blaney heard from many concerned hunters and even state representatives about logging operations to improve wildlife habitat on wildlife management areas during his 31 years with the Commission. He says the big benefit behind any timber harvest on wildlife management areas is offering a variety of species and ages throughout the forest to benefit the wildlife now and in the future.
“The first thing I usually ask someone who visits one of these sites is for them to tell me where the young oaks are underneath the taller trees,” Blaney said. “There aren’t any because the forest canopy is ‘closed,’ blocking most of the sunlight. Oaks don’t grow in the shade, so you have to create holes in the canopy and let sunlight hit the forest floor. That way we have a better chance of replacing this forest with oaks and have a good mix of ages within the same stand.”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation maintains that active forest management via prescribed burns, forest thinning and other actions is beneficial for elk and other wildlife as well as overall forest health.