Open up working woodlands for wildlife

Working woodlands for wildlife: Open it up JASPER (AGFC) – A scenic forest of large, old and stately oak trees may catch an admiring eye, but it's far from what wildlife needs.

When trees grow large and close together, they keep sunlight from reaching the ground under them. This creates a highly negative effect on the many and assorted foods that wildlife requires, according to Dwayne Rambo, a leader of the extensive multi-agency Bearcat Hollow habitat project in northern Arkansas.

He was one of several speakers at a recent landowners workshop at Jasper sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, National Wild Turkey Federation and Arkansas Forestry Commission.

Thinning a patch of woods has a couple of significant effects. Primarily, sun can reach the forest floor when some of the overhead canopy of those large trees is removed. Biologists and foresters tell of many cases in which plants not seen for many years suddenly spring up when the sun gets to the ground.

A secondary effect of taking out some mature trees is they can be sold, which brings in some money for the woodlands habitat work. Selective cutting is the order here, not the clear-cutting that was used in some places in the past and which has fallen out of favor with most public and private land managers.

Working woodlands for wildlife: Open it upWith the opening of the forest canopies, controlled burning can follow to eliminate woody and leafy litter that accumulates on the ground. In a matter of weeks, new growth from native plants will begin, and some of these may be varieties that haven't been seen in an area in recent times.

Rambo told of the experiences on Bearcat Hollow, a project that began in 2009. "When we opened up things, it wasn't long before we were seeing elk, bear, deer and coyotes."

In northern Arkansas, the forests are making a comeback from extensive damage caused by the red oak borer in the 1990s. Rambo said the loss of periodic fires and over-harvesting of timber contributed to the decline, which resulted in fewer birds and animals.

Landowners can call on AGFC and Arkansas Forestry Commission personnel for suggestions on handling stands of large trees that have formed canopies.

To reach a regional AGFC private lands biologist, call one of these offices: Beaver Lake, 866-253-2508; Jonesboro, 877-972-5438; Brinkley, 877-734-4581; Fort Smith, 877-478-1043; Monticello, 877-367-3559; Mayflower, 877-470-3650; Calico Rock, 877-297-4331; Camden, 877-836-4512; and Hope, 877-777-5580. For help from the Arkansas Forestry Commission, phone 501-296-1940.