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Nurturing nature back to life

ABOVE: Bird houses are placed to encourage birds to locate to the property and trees are marked for removal.  Forester Connie Woodcock poses with Mr. and Mrs. Michaels.  Photos courtesy of the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

By Jennifer Turner

Division of Forestry

Barry Michaels of Danville had long dreamed of having his own piece of the Bluegrass, a place where he and his two boys could hunt and fish. So in 2004, he bought 260 acres in Lincoln County.There was one problem, however. On his new farm there was nothing to hunt.

With plenty of trees for food and shelter, Michaels thought that there should be plenty of game on his property, but there were no deer, turkey, squirrels and virtually no song birds either.

“Prior to the purchase, I walked a circle of about 1 ½ miles in 1 inch of snow and came across a total of one deer track. I knew then we had our work cut out for us”, said Michaels. “I knew I needed help.”

Two weeks after he bought his new place, Michaels called his local extension office for help. They gave him the Kentucky Division of Forestry’s (KDF) phone number and KDF Forester Glen Datillo met with Michaels and walked the property with him.

Datillo told him that the property had been over hunted and the choicest trees had been high grade harvested sometime in the early 1990s. Datillo explained that the over hunting partially explained the lack of wildlife; the other reason was that the remaining trees on the property didn’t provide a suitable habitat for wildlife. They were of low quality and needed to be removed to manage for any good crop trees that were available for wildlife and timber.

Datillo suggested that Michaels apply for the Kentucky Forest Stewardship Program (KFSP), which is a free program available to all private forestland owners.  The program is designed to help landowners prepare a customized forest stewardship plan based on their goals and objectives for the property. The plan consists of a description of tree species, soil quality, watershed resources, recreation, any rare, threatened and endangered species and wetland and archeological/historic values on the property. This data provides the recommendations for the Forest Stewardship Plan. Maps of the landowner’s property are also provided as well as soil maps of the property.

As per the primary  goals that Michaels wanted to achieve with his forestland, Datillo  recommended a Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) cut for the forestland areas as needed and the open/field areas to convert to wildlife friendly vegetation along with watering holes and wildlife thickets around the edges of the fields.

A TSI is used to enhance the growth rates of timber and shorten the time required for hardwood crops to mature. Michaels chose the TSI method called crop tree release, which is the practice of deadening selected trees in younger, overstocked forests for the benefit of releasing desirable crop trees. It takes decades to grow quality hardwood trees such as white and red oaks, cherry, ash, yellow poplar, hickory and black walnut. Datillo marked 10 acres of trees to be deadened and Michaels either cut the trees down or cut through the trees cambium layer, also called girdling.  Then Michaels used an herbicide and left the dying trees in place to later become a wildlife habitat.  During the first two years of implementing his stewardship plan, Michaels saw deer on four separate occasions, but still no turkey.

Since then, Michaels has released desirable tree species on 156 acres of his property. In 15-20 years, Michaels will be able to do a selective harvest of the first released acres. At that time, Michaels will be able to select the mature, commercial trees of a specific diameter and harvest them on a rotational cycle to maintain his forest’s natural balance. This also will ensure that Michaels will have a continuous supply of timber for sale in the future and his wildlife will have a continuous supply of food and shelter.

“Most of the TSI improvements will be noticed over the long-term versus the  short-term effects. My expectation is that the marketable timber we are protecting will grow faster now that the unwanted timber has been removed.  Also, as more sunlight is able to reach the forest floor, we are seeing more “new generation” growth that should help support wildlife,” said Michaels.

Further following his Forest Stewardship Plan recommendations, Michaels has also installed 6 acres of food plots. These food plots will benefit many species of native wildlife including turkey, mourning doves, bobwhite quail and white-tailed deer. He also planted soybeans, winter wheat and clover for turkeys, corn for deer and sunflowers to encourage birds. He has planted 20 apple, six pear and five persimmon trees for wildlife also.

Michaels has also eradicated fescue, which provides a very poor habitat for wildlife and restored the area with native warm season grasses. Native warm season grasses (prairie cordgrass, big & little bluestem, Indiangrass, side-oats grama) are bunch grasses, growing in clumps that provide excellent year-round cover for small game. The native grasses increased his small game sightings and has added good nesting sites for birds of all species.

Michaels utilized several federal ‘Farm Bill’ programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service  to help defer some of his costs. The Forest Land Enhancement Program provides landowners with cost-share dollars to implement their management plans and follow-up technical assistance to encourage management plan completion and the achievement of long-term forest management objectives. The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program’s primary purpose is to address wildlife habitat needs such as the development and maintenance of grassland and early successional forested habitat. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers in order to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat.

Today, Michaels is a certified Tree Farmer and a member of the Kentucky Woodland Owners Association. He is retired and able to spend more time in his woods. He has attended several Kentucky Woodland Owners Short Courses put on by KDF and the UK Department of Forestry. “There are a lot of great, free programs out there for landowners,” said Michaels. “I encourage others to use them!”

With all of his hard work, Michaels is happy to report, “And the turkeys have come back. I enjoy the fact that I now see deer, turkey, song birds and doves on a regular basis. I have even sighted the occasional bobcat.”

For more information about the Kentucky Forestry Program, check out the web page at http://forestry.ky.gov/LandownerServices/Pages/default.aspx.

 

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