Forestry and Wildlife Program
For decades, the Division of Forests and Lands and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department have worked cooperatively to ensure that forest practices on state lands help enhance wildlife habitat. In 1986 this partnership formalized with the two agencies entering into a cooperative agreement to jointly manage wildlife habitat on all state lands.
This partnership, the first of its kind in the nation, recognized that our state lands are primarily forested properties, and habitat management will usually involve manipulating forested habitats. The Forestry and Wildlife Program brought foresters to the Forest Management Bureau staff - jointly funded with Pittman-Robertson federal aid in wildlife restoration dollars from the US Fish and Wildlife Service via the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, matched by state dollars from the Division of Forests and Lands - to work specifically on wildlife habitat improvement on state lands. Comprehensive forest inventories, like those done on State Forests and Parks, were conducted on Fish and Game Department Wildlife Management Areas. Data for all properties is analyzed for existing habitat conditions and diversity. The goal on state lands is to provide habitat diversity in order to meet different habitat requirements for as many wildlife species as possible. Program foresters develop projects to work toward this goal.
On our largely forested state lands, projects to enhance the diversity of wildlife habitats are frequently done in concert with silviculture and timber harvests. Silvicultural systems applied during harvesting can create a mosaic of timber types and vegetation layers across the landscape. Thus integrating the needs of wildlife and wildlife habitats into the application of silvicuture during harvests provides an effective tool to enhance the diversity of wildlife habitat. The first timber harvest conducted under the Forestry and Wildlife Program occurred on the Fish and Game Department's Hirst Wildlife Management Area in 1990. Since then habitat enhancements have been accomplished through timber harvests on numerous Wildlife Management Areas, State Forests and State Parks across the state.
When habitat improvement cannot be done in concert with timber harvesting, non-commercial projects such as mechanical clearing, mowing and prescribed burns are planned and implemented. Many non-commercial projects focus on re-establishing openings in the forest historically important and once abundant when natural wild fires and agriculture created and maintained "upland opening" habitat. As agricultural fields were abandoned and wildlife fires controlled upland openings reverted to woodlands. Fields and brushy "old fields" (upland shrub) provided ideal habitat for species such as the Eastern Cottontail and Golden-winged Warbler once abundant into the 1900's. Today upland opening habitats are greatly diminished - lost to development and maturing forests. This habitat loss has had serious consequences for many wildlife species. Twenty percent of the wildlife species found in New England today require habitats of upland shrub, grass openings, or non-forested wetland. Additionally, these habitats are seasonally important to another 70 percent of the region's wildlife species.
Creation of Upland Opening Habitat Often Requires Mechanical Clearing and Prescribed Fire
Ironically, the first tree species to invade abandoned farmland, like aspen and paper birch, provide another habitat component in short supply across the state. These "early successional, or shade intolerant" plant species require sunlight to establish and are short-lived. Over time these early light demanding plants are replaced by species which can regenerate in shade. As New Hampshire's forests mature less early successional habitat is available for dependant wildlife species, from American Woodcock to Rufus Sided Towhees to bobcats.
In 1993 at Mast Yard State Forest in Hopkinton the Ruffed Grouse Society funded a joint Division of Forests and Lands and the Fish and Game Department project to regenerate aspen, an early successional habitat, in an area not suitable for a commercial timber harvest. An area with a mix of conifers and hardwoods including aspen was mechanically cleared and burned to prepare the site for aspen to naturally regenerate. Aspen is a very popular species for wildlife. The resinous aspen buds and catkins are valuable winter and spring food for not only ruffed grouse, but the tender bark, twigs, and foliage are eaten freely by rabbits, other small mammals and hoofed browsers (see Moose Facts); and the wood and bark is relished by beavers and porcupines.
Aspen Regeneration Project - Mast Yard State Forest
Later partnerships with other sportsmen's groups and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, have supplemented state funding for non-commercial work. Maintenance - even expansion of these critical habitat types is key to encouraging a diversity of wildlife species in the state. Doing so requires frequent disturbance, through management practices which include prescribed burning, mowing and clear-cutting. New Hampshire's state lands provide an ideal venue for demonstration of wildlife habitat management techniques. Managing for and protecting wildlife habitat and demonstrating sound forestry principles are goals of state land management.
In 1995, Forest Management Bureau staff were recognized by the Northeast Section of The Wildlife Society for "enthusiasm and professionalism in implementing innovative planning and project design of integrated forestry and wildlife management techniques on New Hampshire State Forests, State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas." So look around the next time you're at a state park, forest or wildlife management area... the wildlife you see may be enjoying the fruits of a fifteen year partnership.