Choose a project that fits your budget, timeline, and long-term goals. Projects range from simple tree pruning to in-depth lakeshore restoration. Here are a few examples that correspond to the wildlife, recreation, income, and combination themes. Each of these projects may be tailored to meet multiple goals.
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If you want to attract wildlife to your property, you might consider creating a wildlife opening as your first woodland project. Unlike traditional food plots, which usually consist of planted nonnative grasses or crops, wildlife openings use native vegetation and are therefore more suitable to meeting the needs of native wildlife.
Wildlife openings are small clearings in your woodland—ranging from a half-acre to five acres, but usually one acre or smaller in size—that mimic the type of openings created by natural disturbances such as fires or wind. Disturbance is nature's way of renewing a forest, and many creatures depend on the type of habitat provided by a forest disturbance. Methods for creating and maintaining your wildlife opening could include hand-cutting trees and shrubs, brush mowing, and controlled burning with the help of a professional Maintaining your opening is best done outside of the primary nesting season for birds, which is mid-May through early August. A natural resource professional can help you decide which method(s) work best and the best location for the opening.
You do not need to remove all of the trees and shrubs in your opening. It benefits wildlife to leave—or plant, if absent—nut-and fruit-bearing species, a few snags, fallen logs, and brush piles for shelter. The opening should be about three times as long as it is wide, irregular in shape, and placed on a south- or southeast-facing slope to take advantage of the sun.
When choosing the location of your wildlife opening, it may not be necessary to clear new areas if you have existing openings that can be improved by planting or regenerating native species. Pre-existing openings may include yards, old pastures, edges between forest and agricultural fields, and open areas near lakeshore. You might also consider improving an existing food plot. Using pre-existing openings can prevent unnecessary fragmentation of your woods.
Nonnative species can be a big problem for forests when they displace native species. Invasive plants can crowd the understory of your woods or proliferate along your trails, making recreational access difficult. The first and least costly step you can take to combat any invasive species—plant, insect, or disease—is to prevent them. Here are some steps you can take.
If you have confirmed that there are invasive plants in your woods, taking steps to control these pests makes for a good first woodland management project.
Catching an infestation early can be critical to successful eradication. The best time to tackle removing an invasive plant is when it's present, but not yet well-established in your woods. Once an invasive plant becomes well-established,eradication is more difficult, but you can still manage the problem and give your native plants a chance to compete with the invader.
Woody invasive plants in your region include common buckthorn, several species of Eurasian bush honeysuckle, and weedy invaders such as leafy spurge, common tansy, several species of nonnative thistle, and spotted knapweed. Watch for garlic mustard, which is a prolific understory plant with clusters of small four-petaled white flowers and a garlicky scent to its leaves. While it is present, it's not yet prevalent in your region. Garlic mustard has already invaded other parts of Minnesota and the United States. If you spot garlic mustard, act quickly to remove it. If it becomes established in your woods, it will become highly problematic.
A variety of methods are used to control invasive plants.
Remember that seeds in the soil can germinate for several years after you remove mature plants. You must be persistent in removing new plants until the seedbed is exhausted or the infestation will return. After you remove an invasive species, you may need to plant native species to fill the void, otherwise new invaders may quickly return to the disturbed area. Native trees and shrubs that could replace buckthorn and honeysuckle include high-bush cranberry, nannyberry, pagoda dogwood, American hazelnut, common elderberry, and native bush honeysuckle. Native forbs in your region are many, and include bloodroot, wild ginger, Canada tick trefoil, black-eyed Susan, and whorled milkweed.
Unfortunately, new invasive plants are constantly popping up in areas where they have not been spotted before, and the most troublesome invaders in your region may have changed since the time of this writing. Keep an eye on the DNR's terrestrial invasive website for up to date information.
Native plants » information on native plants
Minnesota State Forest Nursery » information on ordering and planting bare-root tree and shrub seedlings
If you enjoy keeping the hearth crackling throughout the long Minnesota winter, a woodland stand improvement harvest will give you abundant firewood from your own property.
Harvesting firewood on your property saves money. To maintain a forest that will stay healthy, produce income, and look good, choose your firewood trees strategically. Mark trees that are:
Logs harvested from dead or dying trees may contain insects or fungi that can harm remaining trees and some insects are attracted to recently harvested logs from healthy trees. To prevent these organisms from spreading, it is best to harvest and process your firewood in cold weather. Split, stack, and cure the wood on site for two years before moving it to another area. If you choose to harvest trees yourself, having a project plan prepared by a professional forester can help you identify where, how many, and which species of trees to harvest. Remember moving your harvested logs from one site to another can spread unseen insects and diseases. It's always best to use it where you cut it.
Forests play a critical role in maintaining the health and beauty of Minnesota's many lakes. If you own lakeshore property and are interested in a "combination approach" to your woodland management strategy, a lakeshore restoration project may be a good fit. Maintaining healthy lakeshore provides habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife. It also improves recreational opportunities by maintaining good water quality and can potentially increase the value of your land by improving visual quality.
Specific recommendations for a lakeshore restoration project vary depending on the condition of your shore, the local ecology, your goals, and regulations governing your shoreline. The DNR's online Restore Your Shore tool is an excellent resource to assess the current condition of your lakeshore and find tips to increase ecosystem health along your water's edge. For grant funding and general planning assistance, check with your local county soil and water conservation district, watershed district, lake association, or with a DNR fisheries habitat specialist for more information.
Native Plant Community Spotlight: Lakeshore »
"Harvest for Habitat" means thoughtfully and purposely harvesting trees in your woodlands to improve wildlife habitat.
A well-planned tree harvest can improve the food and cover for specific wildlife by creating new growth and diversifying the ages, heights, and species of trees in your woodlands. Carefully planning which trees to harvest and retain can reap long-term habitat benefits beyond your own woodland.
How you harvest trees depends on your landscape, woodland type, its current state, nearby wildlife, the wildlife you want to benefit, and which habitat needs you can influence. For example, you may want to selectively harvest trees to release and encourage oak to increase acorn production for wild turkeys or deer. Or you may want a clear-cut/regeneration harvest to allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor and encourage young trees, shrubs and forbs to flourish. For example when aspen is harvested correctly, it produces dense, vigorous regrowth that benefits certain wildlife such as ruffed grouse while sustaining the aspen.
It's a good idea to first contact a professional forester to learn if a "Harvest for Habitat" is right for your woodland.
Take it a step further and have a plan. A Woodland Stewardship Plan is a long-term management plan for your entire woodland that will help you identify and achieve your goals, which may include improving habitat, getting fair market value for your trees, or other goals. A professional forester, who is approved by the DNR to write plans, will listen to your goals, walk your woods, and prepare a plan with you. When the plan is completed and registered with the DNR, you may be eligible for property tax relief or incentive payments. To learn more or locate an approved stewardship plan preparer, visit U of M Extension's My Minnesota Woods
If you simply want a "Harvest for Habitat" and don't require a long-term plan, you can also contact a professional forester from the Minnesota Association of Consulting Foresters
Woods workbook » guides you through setting goals for your woods and how to get them done.