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Young Forest Habitat for Hunter Access Cooperators

Posted: October 14, 2015

The recent award of federal Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP) funds to the Pennsylvania Game Commission to improve wildlife habitat on private lands is making it possible to offer, for a limited time, no-cost habitat projects to private landowners enrolled in our Hunter Access Program.

Since the creation of Pennsylvania’s first Hunter Access program in 1936, one of our primary goals has been to assist private landowners in improving their wildlife habitat. The vast majority of wildlife habitat is on private lands, so working with landowners has been a continual focus, although our ability to meet this demand has varied with our budget. The recent award of federal Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP) funds to improve wildlife habitat on private lands is making it possible to offer, for a limited time, no-cost habitat projects to private landowners enrolled in our Hunter Access Program. What better way to ensure the strong traditions of Pennsylvania wildlife habitat and hunting will continue into the next generation?

What Kind of Habitat Is Needed?

We are focusing on the habitat in greatest need in Pennsylvania, which is broadly called “Young Forest” habitat. This large umbrella term covers everything from old-field shrublands to scrub oak woodlands and regenerating young forest lands. These vegetation types provide homes for species of hunting interest such as cottontail rabbit and ruffed grouse, as well as American woodcock and snowshoe hares, which have declined in numbers dramatically over the last three decades, as well as some lesser known species that are in real trouble, such as whip-poor-will, golden-winged warbler, cerulean warbler and yellow-breasted chat.

Where Is It Needed?

The primary challenge for habitat management on private lands is taking into consideration the overall landscape context that encompasses many adjacent landowners, often with different individual goals, and designing appropriate habitat projects that are large enough in scale to meet the needs of the desired wildlife. This is where the art and science of wildlife habitat management and forestry intersect. Every situation is different, but every situation also presents opportunities for the landowner and for wildlife. Our professional staff can help design the appropriate project for your property that will provide the best young forest habitat for your location.

The secondary challenge is linking those willing landowners with technical experts and financial resources to implement a project on the ground. The VPA-HIP funding helps us match willing landowners with PGC technical experts and provides the necessary funding to complete larger habitat projects. We have about $3 million to spend on these habitat improvements, and we want to get these projects completed by September 2017, so in most cases, that means we need to start implementing them by next fall at the latest.

How Big Is Big Enough?

Project size is set at a minimum of fifty acres, but projects can be as large as the landowner desires; there are no upper limits. We have completed similar projects in excess of 1,200 acres. The work will be supervised by PGC staff, and completed by private contractors who bid on projects, allowing us to complete more projects in a shorter amount of time.

What Does It Look Like?

These are NOT your typical food plots! Some recent examples of projects we have completed include mechanical chopping and spraying invasive shrubs in old fields, mechanical chopping and burning of declining scrub oak to invigorate new scrub oak re-growth and increased acorn production, felling pole and mature aspen and birch to allow young aspen to re-grow, and non-commercial forest clear-cuts to provide mixes of dense cover and bare ground to allow sunlight to aid in tree re-growth. One of the social challenges of doing these projects is that they sometimes appear “messy” to the human eye, but to wildlife it looks AWESOME! Most of these projects take about two years after completion to really produce the habitat results wildlife respond to, but boy are they worth it in the long run.

How Do I Get Started?

So if you are in our Hunter Access Program, or are interested in joining, and would like to improve habitat for wildlife on a grand scale, there is no better time than the present to get started. To join our Hunter Access Program, contact your local PGC Region office; contact info is on our website. If you’re already a cooperator, contact your local Region office, and let them know you’re interested in young forest habitat management using the VPA-HIP program. They’ll set up a site visit to discuss the opportunities.

Contact Information

Mike Pruss
  • Private Lands Section Chief, Pennsylvania Game Commission