First, what is young forest?
Any forest that has had most of its older, mature trees removed and replaced with seedlings or saplings is considered young, even if it has been covered with trees for hundreds of years. Trees may be removed through natural forest disturbances — like a tornado, windstorm, or wildfire — or forest management techniques such as a timber harvest or prescribed fire to mimic these natural processes.
The first trees and plants to grow are usually highly productive, fast growing, intolerant of shade, and usually short-lived than shade-tolerant species. Species that fall under this young forest category are aspen, birch, jack pine, alder, and oak.
Young forest is important to a wide range of game and non-game wildlife such as a multitude of migratory and resident bird species, ruffed grouse, woodcock, white tailed deer, black bears, rabbit and hare. Its dense cover brings vertical structure and protection for nesting, feeding, and brood rearing. The young vegetation provides a variety of seeds, berries, and nuts while it also attracts insects valuable for foraging wildlife.
Why focus on it?
Forest inventory work over the years has told us that Wisconsin’s young forest habitat is on a decline due to less disturbances on the landscape. The suppression of natural disasters plus the public resistance to intensive timber harvests results in forests that are maturing. Mature forest has its value, but it does not provide usable habitat for species who specialize in young forest habitat. As a result, wildlife scientists have noted that American woodcock and golden-winged warbler numbers have declined by more than 50% across the species ranges in recent decades.
It is estimated that nearly a million acres of young forest is needed in Wisconsin to help restore population levels!
2007 — the Upper Great Lakes Young Forest Initiative created young forest habitat goals.
2011 — WI DNR saw a need for an outreach program to educate private landowners about young forest management and benefits to wildlife.
2014 — Agencies and organizations came together to form the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership with a common goal to establish a landscape-scale conservation approach that can deliver young forest habitat on suitable lands across Wisconsin, regardless of ownership.
Over 965,000 acres of new young forest is needed in WI to reach the population recovery goals in the AMWO Conservation Plan.
"By pooling agency and partner resources and conducting this effort in a structured way, we can do landscape-scale habitat work while helping local economies through sustainable timber harvesting. Correctly planned and carried out, young forest projects boost outdoor recreation, as folks have more and better opportunities to watch wildlife and to hunt."
says Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologist Jeremy Holtz.