Managing Pine Stands for Wildlife

When preparing to plant pines, the site almost always must be prepared in order to control hardwood competition. Prescribed fire should be used whenever wildlife habitat enhancement is a goal. If chemical release does not seem probable in the near future (2-3 years), sowing korean lespedeza the first winter following burning is the best way to provide supplemental food. Sow approximately 10-15 lbs/ac during February or March over parts of the stand near cover. On small sites (< 10 ac), the entire stand could be sowed.

Pine seedlings should be planted at a spacing that has at least 10 feet in one dimension. From a maximum density of 544 trees/ac (10x8) down to a minimum of 396 trees/ac (10x11) you would cover the range of economically viable planting rates which would still provide some wildlife benefits. The wider the spacing the greater the value to wildlife. An ideal may be to go with 453 stems/ac (8x12).

The full effects of chemical release on wildlife habitat are unknown. Use release chemicals only if it is necessay to maintain a stand.

Precommercial thinning should be used on stands between 4 and 12 years of age when stocking exceeds about 600 or 650 trees per acre. One very effective technique for doing this is to use a small dozer to take out every other row of pines. This will not only improve the growth potential of your pines, but will also provide an excellent boost to the quality of the stand for wildlife at a time when virtually all wildlife value has otherwise disappeared.

With the wider planting spacings indicated above you should be able to thin your pines as early as age 17. It is important to thin as soon as possible, not only for the benefits to the stand, but also for the economic return and the very significant improvement to the quality of the habitat for wildlife. Residual stands should not exceed 65 sqft of basal area per acre, although 50 sqft/ac is a much better goal for wildlife benefits and should not result in any significant loss of timber benefits. In fact, such densities may in the long run prove to be more desirable economically since larger timber will be possible on a shorter rotation. As with planting densities, residual thinning densities have a limit below which timber values are lost much more rapidly than wildlife values are gained. Although a precise point is not known, it would generally be desirable to stay above 45 sqft/ac. Successive thinnings should be conducted as soon as possible thereafter.

Controlled burning should be used in any stand where a fireline can reasonably be placed and game management is your goal. The first burn should come as soon after the first commercial thinning as possible (usually two years) and be repeated every two to three years thereafter. Burns should be conducted under proper weather conditions between November 1 and February 28. Unless and until you are experienced in using controlled burning, you should have an experienced person on site whenever you are burning. Although it had once been thought that the elimination of fire was crucial for helping wildlife, it is now widely recognized that fire is a very useful tool in creating and maintaining quality wildlife habitat. In fact, where fire can be safely used it is the single best tool available to landowners seeking to improve the quality of the habitat for game animals on their property.

For some forms of wildlife, such as many songbird species, it is better to not burn and maintain the understory of shrubs and hardwood saplings.