Deer rifles have been oiled and put away, the Game Land parking lots are empty and formerly orange-clad hunters are reminiscing about the past season’s successes and woes (with the exception of a few die-hard small game and canine hunters still out there). Does this mean the Game Lands are completely deserted until the spring thaw? Far from it! The dead of winter is a busy time for Game Commission habitat managers. Our foresters are busy marking habitat projects for the future and loggers are busy implementing past plans. “Hold on a minute, did he say foresters and loggers on the state game lands?”
Forest management is habitat management The Game Lands are over 90% forested, so these habitats represent a huge opportunity. In fact, we have 36 staff foresters using creative habitat management on over a million acres. Their main challenge is finding ways to mix forest ages (or successional stages) across the landscape. When you create a good mix of some young forest, some middle-aged forest, and some old forest you can support tremendous wildlife diversity; more so than if a single age class dominates a large area. Timber harvests are the main tool in this endeavor. Each year Game Commission foresters oversee more than 7,000 acres of forest habitat improvements accomplished through timber sales.
This winter aspen cut will be full of young trees and beneficial wildlife plants by this summer. (Photo: Frank Chubon)
‘Tis the season Winter is often the most active season for timber harvesting. I say “often” because we don’t always get cold weather that causes the ground to freeze. Frozen ground means tree harvesting and hauling equipment have little impact on soil and below ground roots. Other benefits of winter harvesting are favorable habitat response (like increased aspen sprouting from winter cuts) and browse availability for deer. Regarding the latter, loggers often observe deer waiting for trees to fall so they can devour previously out of reach buds. So as you’re snug at home watching the playoffs and longing for spring turkey season, think for just a minute about the foresters and loggers who are out there in the cold creating hot spots for next fall’s hunting.
Deer take advantage of tree tops on a game lands forestry project. (Photo: Frank Chubon)
Benjamin C. Jones
Chief, Habitat Planning and Development Division
Pennsylvania Game Commission