Wildlife Habitat Restoration in NH Forests

Stacie Powers, Forest Society Easement Steward

Stacie Hernandez | December 18, 2019
Shrubland habitat with white birch in foreground

Young forest regenerating in a clear cut. Photo by Chuck Fergus

When you imagine a forest that is full of wildlife, you may imagine a forest that consists of really old and large trees. However, the largest diversity of wildlife will be found in dense thickets with trees no older than ten years old! In this habitat you will find the largest array of wildlife because of the diversity of forbs, shrubs, and young trees. These are what we call young forests. These habitats can be created in different types of landscapes all over the state.

An american woodcock with its classic long beak lays down in grass
An American woodcock. Photo by Vic Peters
Young forests can be old farm fields that no longer see the mower or forests that have been cleared and are now starting to regenerate. I also see them at abandoned quarries or sand pits, such as the Winslow Town Forest in Dunbarton. The wildlife that is found here either solely relies on this habitat for food and shelter or can also be found in mature forests. For the animals that solely rely on these young forests, their populations are declining. Some species that use this important habitat include American woodcock, ruffed grouse, New England cottontail, and various songbirds.
Young Shrub land Habitat bird - Indigo bunting

Young forests, including shrublands, used to be created through natural floods and fires. Nowadays, this habitat is no longer being created as it once was because we have controlled natural disturbances and have developed many areas that used to be young forests. The NH Fish and Game is looking for landowners who may be interested in implementing habitat restoration work on either forested tracts or fields, especially those with over 20 acres. “In aggregate, we are hoping to eventually have approximately 15% of our forest in various stages of young successional forest or shrublands; right now we have only about 5% or less in many areas,” said Wildlife Habitat Biologist Tom Brightman.

An old farm field regenerating with young trees
An old farm field regenerating after being abandoned for 10+ years. Photo by Jim Oehler
I recently learned about the Young Forest Project and programs that are available to help landowners plan and implement habitat restoration projects. “Funding through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), or the NH Fish and Game’s Small Grants Program, is often available for the habitat restoration work.  It’s exciting to engage landowners in southern New Hampshire, in order to get young forest and shrubland habitat stewardship projects on the ground,” explained Brightman.   

If you are interested in young forest habitat restoration and management, you can contact Tom Brightman, Wildlife Habitat Biologist, at thomas.brightman@wildlife.nh.gov or 603-271-5860.

Some resources available to learn more about young forest habitat:

Young Forest Project https://youngforest.org/

New England Cottontail https://newenglandcottontail.org/

American Woodcock Management https://timberdoodle.org/

NH Fish & Game Small Grants program specifics  https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/habitat/small-grants.html