Creating Fallow Field Wildlife Openings with Planted Firebreaks

A result of the thinning was six wildlife openings that we had marked for total harvest during the tree marking phase of the project. It is important to note that a wildlife opening, at least a maintainable one, is not created solely from the cutting of trees. In fact, that is just the beginning.

The process started with a literature review on wildlife openings and habitat development. The most thorough and applicable document found was an excellent paper by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Managing Habitats for Ruffed Grouse in the Central and Southern Appalachians. Although it is focused on grouse, it presents practical and scientifically based forestry practices that promotes the acceleration and spatial compression of natural processes to benefit game while keeping them viable in both and economic and labor senses. I can’t say enough about this paper. Read it, read it again, and keep revisiting it as it is information dense.

In a nutshell, this is how we transformed a cut-over area into a wildlife opening:

Freshly cleared opening.

You can see in the photo above that it’s going to take more than spreading seed to make a permanent opening from this. To accomplish this, we first burned the slash. This unfortunately cost us some of the trees surrounding the opening, the heat was blistering.

Following this, we cleared the remaining slash and prepared the opening for planting. This required cutting the remaining stumps flush so that we would be able to navigate the openings with the tractor. Regular burning of the wildlife openings is anticipated, but it is mandatory that we can control them by mechanical means as well, via rotary cutter.

Cleaned opening

After cleaning we were ready to put in the planted firebreaks. The route we chose for most of the openings was to create a firebreak 10 meters from the edge of the woods that was two tractor widths wide which we would plant with a mixture of wheat and white clover. The interior of the opening would remain as a fallow field, which we would burn every few years.

To accomplish this, we marked the edge of the firebreak with red tree marking paint, directly on the ground and plowed in the two strips. This required cleaning the plow often and moving left over rocks and debris out of the way.

Plowed in firebreak

For this we used a standard chisel plow.

Once the ground had been broken up, rock, roots and debris cleared from the plowed strips, a disc harrow was used prepare for planting. This worked moderately well, but for a proper job it requires a lot of time and a bulldozer would be handy for the stumps.
Planting was done by calculating the plowed area and seed was measured using a bathroom scale. The seed mixture was distributed using a hand spreader which affords much more control than a tractor mounted spreader.

Finally, a piece of chain link fence was dragged behind an ATV to cover the seed and the rest we left up to the weather.

Here is a little bit on the results of this:
Planted Firebreaks and Fallow Field Followup