How to Create Woodland Openings for Wildlife

News & Tips: How to Create Woodland Openings for Wildlife...

Got a hundred acres and no deer? Haven't heard a grouse drum since you were a kid? Wish you could find a few bunnies to start the kids on or show them a love-sick woodcock circling a clearing? If your answer to any of the above is yes, think wildlife openings.


Wildlife openings attract wildlife because they contain diverse plant species.

Wildlife openings are interruptions in forested landscapes which for one reason or another are attractive to wildlife. They generally provide food or cover; as often as not both. A wildlife clearing can be as simple as a place where a rock outcropping or boggy area makes it impossible to grow trees. These would be considered natural wildlife openings. They attract wildlife because they contain diverse plant species which often means food and cover. They also create "edge" where two habitats meet and if wildlife loves anything; they love edge.

Natural openings can be found in most woodlands but from the perspective of a deer or a grouse there are never enough of them. A "high quality" one acre opening in the woods can produce a half ton of food per year for whitetails. Compare that to a mature forest which might produce 50-100 pounds per acre and you begin to see the importance of openings to wildlife.


Unfortunately, "high quality" natural openings in most woodlands are few and far between. Fact is, since the turn of the last century, most of our wooded areas have been growing and growing and growing and not all that much is being done to *** or interrupt the grow over. Domestic logging is down, small farmers, and wood cutters have all but disappeared and the most of the old clearings and woodland interruptions have grown over. If you want wildlife openings in your woodlands you have to do something yourself. That's the bad news.


The good news is that wildlife openings are relatively easy to construct. The easiest way to get wildlife openings in your woodlot is to do some commercial logging and work with a consulting forester to make sure it is done right and you get a fair price for your timber. The stories are legion of loggers "ripping off" naive landowners with no experience in timber dealings. A qualified consultant will be able to tell which trees (if any) are ready for harvest and if current prices will support the cut. Log landings, log roads and the occasional clearcut can do wonders for wildlife and you get paid to boot.

The next easiest approach is to pop in a few acres of openings. All you need is 20 acres or so of woodlands and maybe a little professional advice as to placement. According to wildlife consultant Neil Dougherty, "In a season or so you can transform relatively barren (of wildlife) woodland into a wildlife paradise by creating an acre or two of open space for every 20 or 30 acres of solid uninterrupted forest land. Three to five years after you create the openings they should be covered with all types of native vegetation which means food and cover to wildlife. If there is any wildlife in the neighborhood they will find the openings and start using them. The ultimate wildlife clearing is a 1- or 2-acre spot you can plant with highly nutritious food. That is a real game changer"


If you've got 20 acres of woodland, consider clearing an acre or two for wildlife openings.

Shad Rathbone of Evergreen Logging has been working in the woods for his entire life. Of late, he has seen a marked shift in his business from commercial logging to "woods working for wildlife".

"Commercial logging has always been cyclical ( due to fluctuating prices) but over the past few years we are working with more and more landowners who are more interested in developing wildlife habitat than big timber harvests," he said. "Many of them have bought land for recreational purposes and watching wildlife is high on their list. They want to plant food plots where they can watch a half dozen deer each evening and maybe take a couple for the freezer in the fall. One week I might have a chainsaw crew in the woods cutting a dozen or so one-acre 'browse cuts.' We leave the trees where they fall and a do a lot of 'hinge cutting' so the trees will live a few years after they are cut. These "living brush piles" provide instant food and cover to deer and great nesting sites for turkeys and grouse. The next week I could be clearing a 2 acre food plot in the woods with a 10 ton dozer and track hoe capable of clearing and stumping a couple of acres per day. I've cleared football fields in the middle of a hardwood stand which were solid hardwoods one day and 2 weeks later were growing clover and chicory; those spots go from producing almost no food to 5-6 tons of nutrition per year."

Shad cautions "weekend warriors" to use safety gear and every precaution when running chainsaws.

"A chainsaw is the most dangerous thing you have in a hunting camp, and that includes the guns," he said. "Sooner or later a moving chain will wind up on your leg and if you are not wearing chaps it can be real ugly. Falling limbs will also get you. You cut a tree and it starts to fall the right way and the next thing you know a 400 pound rotten limb from the next tree to the one you cut comes down and breaks your back or worse. Pros can cut an acre of trees in a day and it will cost you a few hundred bucks or so. Recreational firewood cutting, pruning, and light clearing (one or two trees) can be fun and is relatively safe, but major clearing projects should be best left to the pros."

If you have large expanses of woodlands and small populations of deer and other wildlife the answer is right there in front of you. Creating wildlife openings will turn a barren patch of woods into a wildlife Mecca in a short season or two.