Most hunters are familiar with clearcuts and have probably hunted over one at some point. Sometimes referred to as cutovers or cutdowns, these habitats are wildlife magnets. Many hunting leases include land with clearcuts and it is generally accepted that every so often a landowner will harvest the timber from their land, resulting a clearcut.What you may not know is that clearcuts are one of the best habitat management strategies you can conduct on your land, if done properly.
In most cases the timber slash is left on site and the year following the initial cut will see the production of grasses and forbs. This early successional vegetation is a fantastic habitat for a variety of wildlife species. The incredibly palatable forage is not only succulent and provides ample nutrition, but it also provides bedding and fawning cover. It is not uncommon for wild turkey to roost on the edges of a new clearcut and black bears are known to reside in clearcuts when the vegetation has reached a level tall and dense enough to provide security. Also, the remaining stumps and logging slash provide a great habitat for reptiles. The lack of cover immediately following a timber harvest will also increase raptor activity. Hawks and other birds of prey commonly use the somewhat barren landscape for hunting purposes.
Since you are basically starting over habitat-wise, the stages of growth can be manipulated and you can control what you wish the area to become. The first year after a cut you will see primarily grasses taking root. After that, the vegetation will shift into forbs, such as golden rod, brambles, and American pokeweed. Roughly 4 or 5 years after the cut is made, tree species such as American holly, sweetgum, and loblolly pines will reach heights taller than any vegetation has since the original cut. If left untouched, it may take another few years before the trees are dominant enough to create a canopy shading out the understory and producing a forest floor that can be easily walked. All of this will occur if the forest is left to regenerate naturally.
As you can imagine, the stages of growth that occur can have a huge impact on how wildlife uses a clearcut. For example, whitetails are edge species, therefore they are attracted any area where two different habitat types meet. By clearcutting a small area within a forested area, you are creating an edge that whitetails will instinctively use for browsing. Even a four or five acre clearcut will yield results. If left unmanaged, the clearcut will go through the stages of growth and soon become an impenetrable forest perfect for bedding. Another option would be to control the clearcut with the use of prescribed burns. The burn intervals will dictate the type of vegetation. Annual burns promote grasses and burns every 2-3 years will promote forbs and keep woody plants and saplings from taking root. While clearcuts are ideal for creating habitat, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If you have 100 acres of forest, I would avoid clearcutting every bit of it, if you are doing so from a management standpoint.
Whether you have a property that has already been clearcut or you are considering it as a management technique, there are multiple methods capable of being conducted that will boost your property’s productivity. While a clearcut may not be the most aesthetically pleasing landscape to view, the results produced are incredibly beneficial to the local wildlife and your future hunting.
By Andrew Walters