Breaking a Few Eggs for Conservation

How habitat is made

by Joel Schnell
for Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

Sometimes conservation is messy. Creating early successional forest from an older alder and aspen stand qualifies. Like breaking eggs, you may have to wreck a few things to make an omelet.
It means shearing, bulldozing, cutting, mulching, or chopping standing trees and brush. The results are worth it, for ruffed grouse, woodcock, whitetail deer, and threatened songbirds like the golden-winged warbler that require little trees. Most of the critters we hold dear in Minnesota love early successional forest- or live nearby.

a month later, a game trail already- visible on right border

First, some background. A year or so ago I contacted my nearest NRCS representative, as listed in my county soil and water newsletter. The NRCS is a part of the US Department of Agriculture. I completed my paperwork, and waited for my application to be approved. I was awarded a habitat management plan for the Golden Winged Warbler, a neo-tropical songbird threatened in Minnesota. After that, I needed to hire a contractor to do the work. I investigated a few options. A forestry mulcher was most appealing, as it leaves a completed path of chipped wood. But it is the most expensive of treatments and out of my budget. A bulldozer, I feared, would take too much topsoil and leave a muddy mess. A hydro-axe or other cutting blade brusher would work, but leave lots of little stumps and a possible need to be brush piled. So the choice I made was a roller chopper- a drum with blades that is pulled behind a skidder. It folds everything down and chops it in 3 foot sections. It regenerates fast and leaves the soil less disturbed.

Roller Chopper

My project was a little over 11 acres, on a 40 acre parcel. The NRCS funding paid for the contractor work. Working with the forester, we defined older alder stands and the aspen lowlands border them. We identified a feathered edge treatment, like the teeth on a saw blade.

The prescription called for up to 30 percent existing trees to remain. A few months after the roller clearing I was able to walk around and plot walking paths and areas for new planting.


A month later, things started to green up.

Making trails

To make best use of the new clearings for hunting, in April I cut trails leading to the opening.


In June, the forest cover came back with a vengeance. Mother Nature has a way of cleaning up broken eggs after all.

March to July

In this split photo, you can see the same view taken in March and later in July. The forest is well on it’s way back. The ruffed grouse and woodcock are back, nesting in the trees left standing. The forest will have two age classes of timber, 15 years apart.

Levi approved trail

And about the remaining 29 acres? Prime habitat, now with a patchwork of early successional forest nearby. Perfect.

Joel Schnell is publisher of Ruffed Grouse Minnesota

He can be reached on facebook messenger.

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