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Deer Wintering Areas

Most of the state of Vermont’s deer wintering habitat is found in hemlock stands.  Hemlock trees have a low income value here in Vermont but are high in wildlife value therefore we rarely harvest them. The state has mapped many hemlock stands as critical deer wintering sites. Any harvesting in mapped deer wintering areas needs to follow strict guidelines and is usually only done if the trees are sick or have undergone a natural disaster. Hemlock trees can live up to 400 years in this area and will continue to provide great habitat over that time. As you can see below, deer are not the only animals that use a deer wintering area. Almost all animals that are active in the winter will use these wintering areas.

Pictured above: Deer are feeding under a hemlock after a porcupine clipped branches. Porcupines feed on hemlock branches, when they do, many are dropped to the ground. Deer do not pass up this opportunity for a free meal and tend to not travel far from porcupine dens.

Pictured above: Two mature tom turkeys are traveling through the deer wintering area. Turkeys will take advantage of the deer trails in wintering areas where they can stay out of the deep snow. Turkeys will follow deer through the winter and capture a free meal from them. Deer will paw up and feed on nuts, ferns and minerals. Turkeys will take advantage of the shoveling job done by the deer to feed on sprouts and small seeds deer do not eat.

Pictured above: A coyote travels through the deer wintering area. Although coyotes are omnivores, their preferred diet is meat. They will travel through deer wintering areas looking for sick or deceased deer that may have succumbed to the rough winter environment. Deer have the advantage in deep snow and can generally escape predation. Most of the deer that are killed by coyotes in the winter occurs when a heavy, icy crust forms. Coyotes can stay on top of the crust while deer break through. If a deer is killed, many additional animals will feed on it ranging from fox, ravens, hawks to mice and squirrels that will eat the bones.

Emerald Ash Borer

Emerald Ash Borer has now been identified in three of Vermont’s Counties; Caledonia, Orange and Washington. It is well known that the borer can devastate ash populations as it has in at least 32 other states. If you feel that your trees may be infected by the insect, please reach out to us.

Credit: USDA

Ash sawlog prices are currently at an all time high. Bartlett Forestry & Wildlife has been salvaging ash trees that have been declining from Ash Yellows Disease for the last 10 years and will continue to do so through the infestation. The new invasion of the borer may have an affect on the price ash is currently bringing at mills.

The biggest threat to Vermont’s ash is the spread of firewood. Buying local firewood can significantly reduce the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer.

Foraging

As spring moves toward summer, another season comes to an end. Morels, an edible mushroom, slowly start to rot away as average temperatures increase.

Although a great foraging opportunity has yet again come and gone for us, many wildlife species are just beginning to expand their diet. Below, a Jack-in-the-pulpit was eaten by a turkey. The tuber root from this plant feeds various wildlife and is a black bears favorite snack after a long winter.

Turkey Nests

This is a turkey nest we found this week that was preyed on. The likely culprit was either a fox, raccoon or mink. Many turkey eggs are prayed on during the spring. Hen turkeys will breed again until they can hopefully raise a brood of chicks. It is not uncommon to see young chicks in the end of June as a result of multiple failed nests.

Planting Sprouted Acorns

Spring is here! Spring is the time of year that we go out and revisit patch cuts that were cut over the winter, this time, with a bucket full of sprouted acorns. Acorns need a dormant period before they sprout, they are collected in the fall, sorted and buried for the winter.

Acorns are a wildlife favorite, to successfully get an oak tree to grow from a sprouted acorn, placement is key. Today, we planted acorns in a spruce patch cut in Bridgewater. Planting is done under the thick tops of the spruce trees that were harvested last winter. Most animals avoid walking through these tops so acorn “predation” is limited, allowing many of them to grow up to little seedlings. As the tops and branches of the spruce tops slowly decompose, they continue to provide protection of the supple buds and twigs of the young oaks. Generally, the higher the brush, the better, to provide protection until the terminal leader and many of the branch buds are above the browsing height of deer. It will likely take 30 years for these acorns to mature to a point that they will produce mast but when they do, many wildlife species will travel great distances to feed on their bounty.

 

 

Winter Den site:Porcupine

This video shows an active porcupine den in a huge hollow maple log and what porcupines feed on in the winter in Vermont. Deer will often come to these sites and feed on the hemlock branches that the porcupine drops to the ground. The porcupine moves like a sloth and climbs trees easily. Twigs, bark and buds of trees are the porcupines main food source in the winter. Much like a beaver which I will show soon.

Against All Odds

This article first appeared in Northen Woodlands on  June 1st 2006 by Patrick Bartlett.

Pine
Pine 2Photo by Tucker Westenfeld 2014

Working as a consultant forester, I get to see some unusual things in the forest, but what I found last winter on a woodlot in Ludlow, Vermont, truly amazed me.

This woodlot is owned by Charles Miller and was formerly managed by the late Myron Smith, my mentor and good friend. Myron often carried an axe with him and girdled low-quality trees as he saw fit, to allow better trees to grow. The two white pines in the photo were joined by a limb from the smaller tree at a young age.

I assume that when Myron found these trees 15 years ago, the smaller tree had a severe blister rust canker by the ground. He then chose to cut the tree with his axe, hoping that the bigger and better tree would have less competition from the diseased tree. I’m sure he assumed it would break away from the crop tree that was holding it up that day and never dreamed that the limb connecting the two trees 24 feet off the ground would support and keep the entire cut-off tree alive.

The smaller white pine that was cut off now is 75 feet tall and has a 10-inch diameter at breast height (DBH). The bark is still alive from the base to the top of the tree, and its entire crown still alive. The white pine that supports this tree is 14 inches in diameter and is the same height. This is truly a miracle of nature, for a white pine to survive not only the blister rust disease but also being cut off from its root system.

Planting Oaks

ESTABLISHING OAK TREES

by Patrick Bartlett, Forestry & Wildlife Habitat Consultant

Getting red oak regeneration to survive and become a tree is frustrating to say the least; foresters and wildlife managers know this all too well. I have been planting red oaks for a number of years and would like to share some of my trials, errors and successes. If you learn from my mistakes, you should have a 90% success rate in growing oaks.

Collecting acorns and throwing them around on a hillside is basically a waste of time. These nuts have an aroma that gives them away to the animals that cherish them; most will be eaten in days. Planting a germinated acorn in April or May will reduce the chance of it being eaten before becoming a seedling. The best way I have found for germinating acorns is to collect acorns in the fall of the year, and place them in a bucket of water after collecting them. Fertile acorns will sink, throw the floaters away. Place the good acorns in a sealable plastic bag and put a very wet paper towel over them. I store mine in a one gallon, clear, zip-lock baggy with a wet paper towel. I keep it in the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator. Burying them in the bag in your garden 12″ deep will also work. If you keep them in your refrigerator, 3 times during the winter the paper towel should be moistened again. If you are not seeing condensation on the inside of the bag then it’s too dry. The key is to keep them from freezing or drying out. When the end of April approaches, take the bag out of the refrigerator or garden. Wet the acorns down and keep the bag sealed and at room temperature for about a week. Within this time, roots will start to emerge. They should be planted before the root gets to be 1/2 inch long.

Planting Oaks 1I have had good results planting germinated acorns in poplar, white birch, spruce or pine patch cuts. The first spring after the cut has been done is the best time to plant. When I’m planting sprouted acorns, I just poke a hole in the ground one inch down, place it in with the root pointed down, then cover it over. The less you disturb the ground, the better. Squirrels will rob your sprouted acorn if they find it. I like to plant them under tops that have been left after a timber sale or in the center of a group of spruce seedlings. Spruce tops take years to rot and will protect the oak seedling. Leaving tops whole is recommended to impede the deer movement. Planting acorns with a group of spruce seedlings that are six to twelve inches tall is like having a live, natural barrier from the deer. Avoid planting the acorns where there is established hardwood regeneration.

If you want to go one step further in regenerating oak trees, it would be to provide a man-made shelter for the vulnerable oak seedlings. Obviously this is a more expensive approach but is worth it if you have a deer browse problem on your property. An annual spring check-up for at least six years is recommended so planting where there is easy access is also highly recommended. Raccoons and bears will sometimes disturb the tubes.

There are a few companies that make this protective tube that is placed over the seedling. Treeessentials and Plantra are two brands I have used.  I have planted approximately 600 oak seedlings in these tubes over the past eighteen years, which I have had good results with. The five foot tube is the one to use for deer protection. It is critical to sink the tube at least one inch into the ground around the seedlings so that mice will not nest in it and girdle your seedlings. The tube has one vase shaped end which should be pointed upward. After the tree emerges, this tapered edge does less damage to the tender bark if the tree gets blown around in the tube. It also helps hold the netting on. In areas where deer use is heavy in the winter, this will not be high enough once your seedling emerges from the tube. In this case, I slide the tube up the stake as the tree grows. The tubes come with two plastic quick ties for attaching to a stake. They also come with a netting that slides over the top of the tube. This is to prevent birds from becoming trapped in them and the new, finer netting design keeps wasps out of the tube.

On one woodlot that I manage, there is a raccoon that has discovered that wasp’s nests can be found in these tubes with the old netting on them. It would chew through the tube to get to the wasp nest. The netting must be removed the year that you expect the tree to reach the top of the tube. I like to remove the the netting when the tree is within 16″ from the top of the tube in the spring of the year.

Wooden stakes can be purchased with the tubes, however, I have recently started using 5/16 of an inch rebar instead. I can use these stakes repeatedly in my forestry business and in doing so it reduces costs for my clients. I cut a twenty foot section into three pieces. This stake won’t rot and will be long enough so that you can slide the tube up if you need to. I like to leave the tube on until the trunk of the oak is one inch in diameter. You will have to cut the tube to get it off the tree which I prefer to do in the spring. This gives the bark a chance to harden up and is not so tempting to mice or rabbits in the winter. Any sucker sprouts should be pruned off at this time. The saplings may be weak and should be loosely tied to the stake with something that will not damage the bark. I prefer to use stove pipe wire slid inside of old sugaring tubing that has been discarded. Most sugar makers have some lying around.

Two year old container stock seedlings (not bare root) are recommended when purchasing oaks from a nursery. They should only be planted in the spring or fall when the moisture in the soil is high. The trees will generally grow twelve to sixteen inches a year in the tubes. I recommend putting a tablet of slow release fertilizer one inch down in the soil above the roots of the seedling.

Granular fertilizer may be a lot cheaper but I have had porcupines smell the granular fertilizer. They have a craving to eat it and have dug the seedlings out of the ground to get at it. I have never had this happen with the fertilizer tablets. It is very helpful to pull in some leaf mulch and build it up around the seedling to help hold the moisture in the soil. I have had a 90% survival rate so far with the oaks planted in these tubes.

Oaks love the sun, so it is important to plant them where they will get plenty of sunlight. If you are planting a small patch cut, plant in the center or the north side but not under the canopy of edge trees. Patch cut should be no less than a 1/2 acre in size and 1 acre is recommended.

This may seem like a bit of work but after you do a few the planting time should be two minutes per tree with annual maintenance being around one minute per tree. Cost of trees and tubes will vary on how many you buy. The Federal Government has a program called WHIP that will cost-share for the planting of oak trees. I like to remind my clients that one good log from a timber harvest can pay for a small oak plantation. I encourage the landowners and children to help with planting these trees and they all seem to get a great deal of satisfaction putting a little something back into their woodlot instead of their bank account.

Critics have stated that this is not cost effective forest management, however, I do not plant a dozen oaks on one hundred acres for harvesting. The concept is to provide a few trees that someday will provide food for wildlife, but more important, a seed source that will be spread around the forest for decades to come by the wildlife that feed on the acorns. Deer population will continue to fluctuate, so when their numbers are low again, acorns from these trees will grow on their own.

Ice Storms

I have been managing woodlots in central Vermont since 1987, and in that time, two major ice storms have hit my area. Those two storms damaged thousands of acres across the region, and many landowners each time chose to salvage timber. Since 1987, I have managed salvage operations on 6,000 acres of sugar maple and northern hardwood stands in Windsor County, and my logging contractors have harvested over two million board feet of ice-damaged sugar maple. The cuts followed the guidelines set by the Vermont Forestry Division for ice-damaged trees. In most cases, about 50 percent of the trees in a given stand had to be harvested.

I happened to be overseeing a sugar maple sale in January 1998 when the big ice storm hit. Interestingly enough, this same stand had been hit by the previous ice storm 10 years earlier. The landowner wanted to salvage timber, and because these were trees that had been damaged by the earlier storm, I thought it would be interesting to dissect some of the logs.

I called Neil Lamson of the U.S. Forest Service. He and his colleagues bought and sawed some of these trees for educational purposes. What they observed (and what the accompanying photos show) turns out to be very common in ice-damaged sugar maples in central Vermont.

Although trees can be remarkably effective at compartmentalizing decay, stains caused by wounding events can eventually bleed through the whole stem.

Once a tree has been wounded, it’s common for a dark stain to discolor the core of the tree. This stain is not true heartwood, which results in a darkening of the wood from natural aging processes within the tree; rather, the discoloration is a reaction to the wound and the infection that follows. The stain is typically black or reddish brown in color and it makes maple lumber less valuable. According to Walter Shortle at the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, the rate of stain spread, which travels both upward and downward in the tree, is likely to be no more than 6 to 10 inches per year. But a storm-damaged tree is a weakened tree, and any pre-existing infections near the butt log could spread, as the tree puts more energy into rebuilding its crown and less into compartmentalizing its wounds. Many of the storm damaged trees we dissected showed staining in the top section of the valuable butt log. Since sugar maple log buyers pay the most for logs that have one-third or less stained wood showing on the cut ends of the sawlogs, it seems clear that overall log value has definitely been compromised by the ice storms.

I have revisited all of these stands over the past five years, and I’ve learned quite a bit from looking at the remaining trees. Most of the sugar maple trees still standing after the salvage operations had some ice damage, including lots of broken limbs. When a branch gets ripped off a tree, it is not a clean break. Wood fibers are pulled from the main trunk. The wound on a sugar maple will bleed out sweet sap in the spring, and some of that sap just sits in the wound. This sugar naturally attracts insects, then woodpeckers looking for a meal. About six years after the 1998 ice storm, I started noticing significant woodpecker damage around wound sites on the main stems of trees. After 10 years, I am now witnessing a number of pole-sized to log-sized sugar maples breaking off right where the woodpeckers have been feeding at ice-storm wound sites on the main trunk.

On the bright side, the storm site now features astonishing sugar maple and ash regeneration that is today between 8 and 16 feet tall. This is in an area where deer and moose are abundant, and in the past they’ve eaten all the regeneration. The thousands of fallen branches that littered the forest floor after the ice storm protected the new seedlings from browsing ungulates, and because large tracts of land were all regenerating at the same time, animal damage was diluted. The regeneration was also enabled by the fact that the remaining trees had a good seed year following the storm, and ample sunlight was able to reach the forest floor.

All of this food and cover has made the forest more hospitable not only to woodpeckers but also to grouse and snowshoe hare and the animals that prey on them, so the landowners have experienced increased wildlife sighting in the past 10 years.