Wildlife Habitat is One of the Joys of Owning Forestland

Natural cover
Natural cover helps wildlife shelter from predators. Photo: Ken Bevis.

By Ken Bevis, Wildlife Biologist, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, Ken.Bevis@dnr.wa.gov

One of the greatest joys of owning forestland must be encountering wildlife—the swish and leap of a deer’s rump as it vaults a down log, flickering, silvery trout in forested streams, and drumming grouse often heard but rarely seen. Take a walk with any small forest landowner, and you’ll hear these stories, even from those who don’t list wildlife habitat as their primary reason for owning forestland.

If you’re among the 60 percent of small forest landowners who list “Nature/Biodiversity” as one of your primary reasons for holding forestlands, you certainly value those encounters. A new publication by the Woodland Fish and Wildlife Publication Project, entitled Family Forests and Wildlife: Vigorous Forests and Healthy Wildlife, offers key information on enhancing wildlife’s access to food and water, providing protective cover and enough habitat space. Family Forests and Wildlife gives resources for finding further information and guidance for how one might identify which species are resident.

Active management of your forest land can preserve and enhance habitats for our nearly 400 species of forest associated wildlife in Washington. Many people wonder where to begin in regard to better managing their lands for habitat. Here are a few ideas:

Barred owl with garter snake.
Barred owl with garter snake. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Gather information

Just like a forester doing a stand inventory, do the same with wildlife. Keep a log of your wildlife observations: species, date, time, specific location on the property, and behavior observations. Over the years this log will provide fascinating information about what animals frequent your property and how they survive. Changes may be noted over time. For example, some areas of our state commonly have elk on private forest lands, some do occasionally, and other areas, such as southwest Washington state, are seeing declines due to hoof rot and other factors. Migratory bird arrival and departures can be noted by the first or last observation of species such as the beautiful Western tanager or yellow-rumped warblers. This information can form the basis for many habitat decisions that follow.

Map features

Add wildlife habitat features to the stand maps of your property. Note areas with small wetlands, snag patches, concentrations of rich fruit-bearing shrubs, or well-used travel ways for deer and elk. These features will also change with time, and adding this data layer to your plan is both interesting and useful.

Read

I was pleased to co-author Family Forests and Wildlife: Vigorous Forests and Healthy Wildlife with two of my colleagues from Oregon. This free online publication from the non-profit Woodland Fish and Wildlife Project offers key information about enhancing wildlife access to food and water, providing protective cover and sufficient habitat space. It also lists resources for finding further information and guidance for identifying which species are resident on your property.

Like other publications from the project, Family Forests and Wildlife can be viewed and downloaded for free at woodlandfishandwildlife.com. You’ll find that the project has many more excellent resources for landowners who want to learn how to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat on their lands.

 Top 10 Tools for Wildlife

  • Keep forests as forests
  • Leave or create down logs
  • Leave or create snags
  • Retain legacy structures such as big old trees and stumps
  • Leave standing live trees for future legacy structure recruitment
  • Provide safe access to water
  • Leave or recruit hardwood and fruiting shrubs across the landscape
  • Leave or recruit hardwood trees across the landscape
  • Maintain well-vegetated riparian buffers