It Starts With Clear Cuts…

Clear cuts can look pretty ugly, yet we have all read about the ‘Ugly Duckling’ that turned into a beautiful swan…

Value Of Clear Cuts

We are constantly reminded by wildlife land managers, foresters, extension agents and other trained conservationists about the positive end results following a clear cut. We just need to get over the initial shock. You do not need to have a complete clear cut for these positive endings. Why indeed should anyone cut a promising oak, when all it needs, is to be set free to express its potential. Some recommend ten oaks per acre to be saved in a timber management cut. This thinking can also be applied to preferred conifers.

I strongly recommend that you work with a forester that has a wildlife background, when contemplating a timber harvest. It has been shown that three productive mature oaks can produce the acorns needs of a single mature deer. All oaks are not equal; therefore one should judge the productivity of their oaks following a good acorn year and identify the more productive oaks for future salvation. Keep them at least fifty feet apart.

Having nearby groves of conifers offers critical winter thermal cover. All conifers give some thermal protection. All conifers catch snow, with much of it evaporating while still suspended, thus less snow on the ground and allowing easier wildlife movement. The above illustrates that a complete clear cut may not be the best choice if you have a mixed forest type that includes oaks and conifers. Whatever you do, do not hesitate to give your land a good haircut. It will grow back. Not only will it grow back with a new thick growth of deer preferred brush and forbs, you will experience a regrowth of existing trees. Of course there is much more value than noted above, when conducting a thoughtful and well managed timber harvest. Take your time and evaluate the options available to you.

When To Cut

Many advise a winter cut for maximum regrowth. This is especially true when the existing forest comprises mainly of aspen. The regrowth will be impressive with 10 feet or more of sapling growth the first year. I personally prefer a mix of forest growth. A late spring or summer harvest suppresses somewhat the aspen’s urge to shoot for the sky. This allows the less aggressive brush, forbs and trees to establish itself. My last forest harvest was made this past September. The previous cut eight years ago was made in late spring. I find a genuine and preferred difference in the warm season cuts. Yes, it grows back slower, but that is exactly the action I want.

Preparing A Permanent Total Deer Habitat

When you contract for a clear cut, insist that it is also a chip cut. This means that not only is the majority of the mature trees removed per your contract but much if not all of the brush and small trees are also cut. You will have a field that looks pretty ugly. The equipment used for timber harvests today is not the axe, crosscut saw and horse drawn log lift wheels of 1900. Your great grandpa never envisioned the tools used today. The cutter is a 3-1/2 feet diameter two inches wide carbide tipped wheel that slices into the tree at the rate of up to 175 feet per minute. The wheel is mounted at the bottom of a large frame that has three axes of movement. The frame has two sets of arms. One set holds the brush or a single tree loosely in place as it is cut and the other set of arms holds the cut timber firmly while the first set opens for an additional cut, if there is room left.

The frame is attached to a tracked or rubber tired monster. The cutter then drops its load in nearby piles. There are skidders that transport these cut piles of brush or trees to a central debarking, saw log cutter and chipping machine area. They can cut and clear a pretty good sized area in a short time. Thirty acres were cut in ten days of work. This is not your typical clear cut of yesterday that left much debris about. When a chipping operation is included very little wood material is left in the field. From the heavy machinery used there is little sod left. You will see a field that has much soil exposed. In level areas the cutter can cut the material to within 4 inches of the ground. Quads and other high clearance vehicles can travel decently about. The cleared area is not picture perfect; there is a good amount of debris that could not be retrieved by the cutter or skidder. We will cover later the need to remove some of this litter.

Planning A Permanent Total Deer Habitat

Now it is time for a planned site layout that will not likely be changed for decades. This entails a good deal of thinking and study. You will be creating a permanent total deer habitat within your clear cut that should last for decades with minimum if any maintenance

Your planning starts before you sign that clear cut contract. Yes, this article states a. ‘Permanent Total Deer Habitat’ but it is much more, for it will address the needs of much wildlife. Think about the nesting and aerial predator cover needed for game birds and the forage and cover needed for small mammals such as rabbits. The clear cut should not be a single square area cut in one corner of your property. The clear cut should affect the entire property as far as controlled animal movement is concerned.

The clear cut can be 25 percent of the entire parcel in the forty acre range and as low as 10 percent in the four hundred acre range. For larger properties the plans can cover separate areas. As mentioned, the clear cut should affect the entire piece of property. Let’s say you have 40 acres and plan to clear cut 10 acres. Those ten acres of clear cuts should be scattered about with small cuts of 1/4 to two acres in selected elevated areas and chosen as a deer bedding area. You can include a food plot or two in your plan.

These small cuts should be connected with deer travel corridors of 15 to 60 feet of width, which is also part of the clear cutting plan. Walk your forty with pen and pad, noted all the hills and ridges, (deer like to bed in elevated areas) note all saddle areas, (a lower area in a ridge, which deer automatically use for they are lazy), note soil types and wet conditions and pay special attention to areas that grew taller and or more robust plants, (a possible future kill plot area).

Checked the soil condition for those potential kill plots within the clear cut. Make notes of known deer travel patterns, such as heavy trails made alongside drainage (deer are drainage animals). Deer may walk on the ridges but normally travel alongside the ridge about 1/3 of the way down and they prefer to cross an open field in the lowest elevation. Pinpoint conifers and mature oaks with long reaching limbs for potential bow sites and note clear cut trails passing nearby. If you have a woods that borders an open field you can seed a strip of a cover and forage blend, called edge or transition area next to the woods that is around 30 feet wide that will change deer movement in your favor beyond belief.

All of the above points of interest and more enter into your planning the layout of your clear cut. Plan a maze of clear cut timber harvesting of connecting trails of 15 to 60 feet wide throughout that forty. Every square yard of clear cut had a special meaning. The same type of thinking can be used for that four hundred acre piece of potential deer heaven. A well planned forty acre clear cut should make a huge impact in the control of wildlife movement within the four hundred acres.

Creating A Permanent Total Deer Habitat

This can get extensive and to keep this article a sensible length may I suggest articles in our website that cover ‘Creating a property set up for maximum deer control’. These articles should give you some ideas when making your plan. They should also help in creating your ‘Permanent Total Deer Habitat’. Chances are your land has had some manipulation to it already. Manipulation such as deer and blind access travel lanes, deer bedding areas, sanctuaries, destination food plots, kill plots and water sources. Much of that clear cut will remain untouched. You have already connected the dots with travel lanes from separated clear cuts. The thick regrowth will suffice nicely as travel lanes in connecting isolated clear cuts to each other.

Hopefully you have made a clear cut or two on hills that could be future deer bedding areas. You will get bedding action there by doing nothing but observing the new dense regrowth. You can enhance the use for bedding by preparing the site for seeding a combination cover and forage blend. This site preparation includes removal of debris for easier travel for you, your equipment and for the comfort of the deer. As mentioned the travel lanes will be used by deer to move about due to the dense regrowth. You can improve the use of these travel lanes using the same site preparation as the deer bedding areas. You may need to cut some stumps closer to the ground, but not remove them.

You will use the same method of site preparation as noted in the web site, when no-till seeding the, ‘Wildlife cover and forage blend’. The instructions need to be followed to the letter with no exceptions.

You will need to spray a minimum of three times. The timing of the first sprayings will change due to the date of the clear cut.

For a clear cut in the dead of winter or late summer the first spraying will be the following spring, when the tallest weeds and or grass’s reaches a height of 8-10 inches. The second spraying will be one month later. The third spraying will be close to Sept. 15h. All first sprayings consist of a herbicide blend of two quarts of Round up, one quart of 2-4-D Ester, one quart of sprayable granulated ammonium sulfate and two ounces of LI-700 per acre. The 2-4-D Ester and LI-700 will not be used for any following spraying for they have some residual effect. If the LI-700 is not available don’t worry, it helps as a herbicide enhancer and the spray will still be effective without it. All following sprayings consist of the same Round up and ammonium sulfate amount per acre, whether you spray three or four times.

For a spring or early summer clear cut, the first spraying will be close to Sept. 15, Followed with three spraying dates as noted above for a total of four sprayings including two Sept. 15 sprayings.

Soil prep consists of having a soil Ph of 6.0. Try hard to contain cost by choosing the seeded area of the clear cut with an original Ph of no less than 5.5. Broadcast pelletized dolomitic lime for faster action. You can fertilize the seeded area with 100 lbs of 19-19-19 per acre for improved cover and forage establishment. This is a low maintenance affair. You should not need to do any serious maintenance for decades, providing the seeding method above was followed closely; Mother Nature cooperated and your soil condition is at least fair with a minimum of four to six inches of top soil. If you make your own seed blend, follow the formula in our website closely and do not seed the switch grass more than two lbs. per acre. Include the Kura clover seed for it lives forever, is more digestible than any clover out there, can grow and survive in the lighter soil types, can survive in somewhat acid soils, (as low as 5.5), deer love it, it comes from Russia and is very hardy once it establishes itself which takes three years and can grow in and can compete with the grasses.

Due to not ideal seeding conditions when broadcasting the seed you can increase the seed rate to a recommended 8 lbs per acre. Do not seed more than 9 lbs per acre or you will not give the forage part of the blend a fair chance to establish itself.

Your seeding date should be in November after the soil reaches a temperature of less than 45 degrees to prevent possible germination then a killing freeze of the forage seed in the combination cover and forage blend. Think early November in the UP to late November in the southern lower. You will broadcast seed the cover and forage blend.

Broadcasting by hand is easy, just set that seed rate low and make adjustments in seed rate as necessary. If you have seed left after the broadcasting you have succeeded. Remember you are not spraying and seeding the entire clear cut with a cover and forage blend, (perhaps no more than 25%). A quad using a 12 volt spreader is also a good seed broadcasting method. Last year in late November we seeded five acres using a quad and front mounted spreader with good results. You can see this at our Ultimate Wildlife Habitat Day next August 28. Stay tuned for details.

We have covered probably less than 10% of the possible applications of creating permanent total deer habitat on clear cuts, yet you should get some message to get you started in this direction. Someone should write a book on this subject.

Check our web site or call 586-784-8090 for additional information

Ed Spinazzola is on the Board of Directors, of Mid Michigan Branch, QDMA and the National QDMA.