What’s so cool about March is that we have finally broken over the hump of winter and entered a time zone where there is enough light to finally get something “real” done after getting home from work. It’s a great time to get some exercise and chop some firewood and manage some habitat. With a chainsaw, you can fell, trim and clear trees to create early successional habitat that many wildlife species, like Whitetail Deer and Ruffed Grouse prefer.
Driving the back roads of Essex County I spot wild apple trees growing everywhere, but many are surrounded by pines, aspen and other fast growing trees which will eventually shade them out, causing a slow death by solar starvation! You can change all that with management.
Most hunters and photographers know that setting up near a wild apple tree increases the chance of getting a shot. Being in a woodlot that has openings with wild apples is heavenly during bow season. To keep those trees supplying the high energy pommels, orchard maintenance is required. Apple trees need lots of sunlight, like all fruits. Cutting the competing trees from around the apples allows more sunlight for photosynthesis and apple production, plus it decreases the competition for water and nutrients. Quality feed comes from quality plants.
To start, take a compass and note where south is and start clearing any trees in that direction. You will need to eliminate the trees that shade the apple. The taller the competing trees, the greater the south, east and west facing semi-circle out from the apple needs to be. You don’t need to cut as much from the north side because the influence from the sun is less. You do need to cut away any competition though. Use the fallen trees to control access points. (In spring, plant wild grape vines by the stumps and tops. The vines will grow over the length of the downed trees and into the dead tops. Grouse will be able to feed on the fruit of the vine, when the snows are deep).
After you have cleared out the competition, prune out any dead wood in the apple trees and thin out the larger branches that crisscross over each other within the tree crown. Be careful not to overcut, it will cause the tree to send out new suckers in the spring. You want to keep the branches with the spurs that produce the fruit.
Once spring comes and the ground is thawed out, you can apply a little fertilizer around the tree, working out from the base as far as the drip line of the outside branches. If you already have a soil test, follow the recommendations, if not a small amount of 10-10-10 should get you started. When I worked in the orchards, we applied a full one pound coffee can to large trees. Small trees will need much less. Don’t over fertilize, it could kill the tree. A small bean can full, may be all you need. Spread the mix out evenly around the trees.
With the renewed apple tree habitat, trees should start producing high quality feed for wildlife, and that’s habitat management benefiting ruffed grouse, whitetails and other early successional species. Who knows, maybe you will get that shot of a lifetime!
Before starting your “Habitat Hero” adventures, for safety reasons, take the Game of Logging classes or the S-212 wildfire chainsaw course so you get some chainsaw skills to help you with felling trees and to train you in the proper safety methods of handling a saw and safety gear needed. Chainsaws are effective but nasty tools that take no prisoners. They mean business and can do some serious damage if not handled properly. As an ex EMT and current fire department member, I know what can happen, so be safe out there!
NY residents gather for rally
Speaking of getting a shot, I attended the New York State Rifle and Pistol Associations rally in Albany protesting the SAFE Act. Over 5,000 freedom fighters were in attendance. NRA President David Keene was the main speaker. He praised the crowd for their spirit and cautioned them that they must keep vigilant if they want to preserve their constitutionally given 2nd Amendment rights and most importantly, to be able to hand them down to the next generation. The crowd waved dozens upon dozens of flags flying the motto of the day: DON’T TREAD ON ME!
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at email@example.com.