Huron County and surrounding territory has lots of woodlots, and I’ve enjoyed some more than others. Some have been ruthlessly gutted of all usable timber leaving only treetops and brush, and some have majestic trees and lots of wild game that returns year after year. If you own a woodlot, have relatives who own one, or friends that let you roam in their acres, you can improve almost any woodlot with minimum effort – if the landowner doesn’t mind or you have time to work on your own acres.
One of the first things you might do is remove all “weed trees” and make them into nice little brushpiles that rabbits and small animals can use for protection. Weed trees like hackberry, slippery elm, witch hazel, and others of that ilk are not worth having for firewood, wildlife food, or any other purpose. They simply take up sunlight that other trees need, and pull nutrients from the soil to no good purpose. But do leave the beech since their trunks hollow readily for wild creatures homes, and the beechnuts are used by everything from raccoons and squirrels to deer and wild turkeys.
When you removed such weed trees, replace them with trees that are good not only for timber and firewood, but for wildlife. Oaks are a classic example. Their acorns are not only vital foods for creatures from deer and turkeys who love the rich, nutritious nuts and will travel far to find them, but squirrels, raccoons, and other hungry wildlife. But when you plant oaks be sure you concentrate on the sweet and tasty nuts of white, post, and burr oaks and avoid the bitter, tannin filled nuts of red, black and pin oaks which are used by wild creatures only as a last resort.
There are two ways to acquire such trees. One is to gather acorns each fall and plant them an inch or to deep, and do the same for beech and the ever useful hickory nuts which squirrels favor over all others. Or take advantage of occasional sales by county soil and water conservation folk. Your woodlot will probably have lots of trees of various sizes and species already, but if there are clearings or open spots, it never hurts to plant more. Or just as useful, fill the clearings with plants that will attract wildlife and become prime hunting spots as well as sustaining animals through hard winters.
Field corn that isn’t harvested will be favorites of deer, raccoons, wild turkeys, squirrels, and other creatures, and if there’s room enough, plant at least some rye, alfalfa, clover, and/or a mixture of plants. The mixtures are available by Googling “Whitetail deer foods”, and often consist of such things as turnips, daikan radishes, Siberian kale and rape, foods that will bring everything from deer to rabbits.
It’s not vitally necessary, but it never hurts to plant a few rows of pines or other evergreens that will make good protection for wildlife in winter as well as free Christmas trees, and a dozen or two black walnuts round the edges of your woodlot. The payoff can be long term with occasional checks from the timber companies, or short term when hunting seasons roll around and you have the pleasant task of dragging out a nice buck or carrying a fine tom turkey to the pickup. Either way, you can’t lose.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his blog at outdoors withmartin.com.