Managing Grasslands, Shrublands and Young Forests for Wildlife: A Guide for the Northeast

This 154-page document is a 2006 collaboration between the N.H. Fish and Game Department, UNH Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, this publication presents specific management practicies that create or maintain early successional and young forest habitats in the Northeast.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword – Richard M. DeGraaf, U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station Mariko Yamasaki, U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. Looking Beyond Property Boundaries – Landscape and Regional Considerations for 7 Managing Early-Successional Habitats
  • Chapter 3. Maintaining and Restoring Grasslands
  • Chapter 4. Managing Shrublands and Old Fields
  • Chapter 5. Managing Regenerating and Young Forest Habitat
  • Chapter 6. Managing Small Forest Openings
  • Chapter 7. Managing Abandoned Orchards and Apple Trees
  • Chapter 8. Invasive Exotic Plants in Early-Successional Habitats
  • Chapter 9. Riparian Zones: Managing Early-Successional Habitats Near the Water’s Edge
  • Chapter 10. Habitat Management Tools
  • Chapter 11. Habitat Management Case Studies
  • Chapter 12. Opportunities to Obtain Financial Assistance for Wildlife Habitat Management Projects
  • Appendix A Contact Information for Selected Federal and State Agencies
  • Appendix B List of Common and Scientific Names of the Plant and Animal Species Mentioned in This Guide


by Richard M. DeGraaf and Mariko Yamasaki

The wave of forest clearing that swept across the Northeast and Midwest beginning about 1750 is well known. Land that was cleared for agriculture was soon abandoned with the opening of the Erie Canal, the California Gold Rush, the Civil War, and the rise of industrial cities. Such clearing put a cultural premium on forests; they were rare compared to the open countryside, even though it was already reverting to forest with the decline of agriculture in the first half of the 19th century. Less well known is the extent and variety of early successional habitats that existed in much of the Northeast upon European settlement. Disturbances due to fire, hurricanes, floods, Native American burning and agriculture, and beaver, as well as native prairies, barrens, and oak openings imparted an open character to much of southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic region, and created patches of early successional and young forest habitats elsewhere. Such areas were tilled or grazed from earliest settlement; the loss of natural open habitats, once considerable, actually began centuries ago, and is now the most important wildlife habitat issue in the Northeast.

Today, once open habitats have either reverted to forest or are developed, fire is controlled, and periodic flooding prevented to the fullest extent possible. Except for wind, creation of early successional habitats by natural disturbance has been greatly curtailed for the past century or more, and wildlife populations dependent upon them have been quietly declining as well. Many of these species are habitat specialists, using only specific-stages of old fields, or brushlands, or regenerating forests. Now in critically short supply such habitats need to be maintained by periodic treatment or created in places where they did not exist historically.

This volume is a much-needed presentation of the specific management practices that are necessary to create or maintain early successional and young forest habitats on the northeastern landscape. In some cases they replicate the processes that historically created them, fire, or past agriculture practices such as mowing or grazing. Newer methods such as use of herbicides and new problems such as invasive exotic plants further challenge efforts to provide habitat for disturbance-dependent species.

With most of the landscape in forest cover, great opportunities exist to provide young forest habitat through timber management. Even-aged silviculture is well suited both ecologically and economically to most of the major forest types of the Northeast. Convincing the public and more landowners to use even-aged practices or larger group/patch selection practices, however, will not be easy. Most suburban residents and even some biologists view forestry activities not as periodic management of renewable resources, but rather as precursors to development. Today’s wildlife agencies face the challenge of not only creating and maintaining diverse wildlife habitats in forest landscapes across myriad landownership classes in the Northeast, but of also educating the public in the overall values of such management for a wide variety of species. People need to understand that early-successional forest habitats are ephemeral by nature, and not permanent features on the landscape. Active forest management can create the vegetative conditions many early-successional species as well as humans use, and can influence the proportion and distribution of early-successional habitats over time. When practiced across essentially forested landscapes, a broad array of wildlife habitat values can be enhanced as well as conserved without sacrificing mature forest values. Taken in total, this guide gives managers and interested publics some excellent insights into the nature of this management challenge and the numerous opportunities to positively influence the presence and maintenance of early-successional habitats in the Northeast now and in the future.

Go to weblink for printable version.