The Allegan Conservation District partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to turn mature aspen stands into young forests. This restoration effort took place in the Allegan State Game Area and consisted of 14 sites covering approximately 55 acres. This project began in 2018 and completed in 2020.
Young aspen forests are a valuable source of food and habitat in the spring time for many species, but they quickly mature into other forest types. Naturally, these forests would experience fires or wind throw, which would force new aspen stands to grow. However, through years of fire suppression natural forest regeneration hasn’t been able to happen. This project focused on mimicking those disturbances to encourage new aspen growth.
One Year Progress
Purpose and Background
What are young forests?
A young forest will contain trees that are less than 20 years old, as well as many shrubs and have a sparse canopy cover. The majority of trees in a young forest will be either seedlings or saplings, meaning that their trunks would be less than 5 inches in diameter.
Why are young forests important?
When you hear the word, “forest” what do you think of? Do you think of dense trees, shade, or moss? If so, it’s important to know that young forests look much different than that. A young forest is a transitional habitat. A more accurate image you could think of would be something that is between a grassland and that mature forest you may think of most often. So why should you care about them? Here’s what the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says about young forests:
“[Young] forests are highly productive as the trees in them compete for space and light in a race to the top of the forest canopy. For people, this means a steady supply of biomass fuel, timber, and wood pulp; it means crisp fall days hunting deer, bear, grouse, and woodcock; it means birdwatchers prowling spring thickets raucous with the songs of warblers returning on migration; it means family outings to harvest raspberries and morels; and it means blazing streaks of color for fall sight-seeing. For wildlife, young forests are rich feeding locations for migrating wildlife as well as those who stay year round; they are dense with foliage of small trees that provide cover from predators and structure for nesting; and their soils support a variety of flowering and fruiting plants and shrubs which host diverse and abundant insect life.”
Why do we need to cut the aspen trees down?
Young forests are a valuable source of food and habitat in the spring time for many species, but they quickly mature into other forest types. When they mature, they are no longer able to serve as adequate habitat for species such as Wood Turtles, Ruffed Grouse, and Eastern Whip-poor-will. Naturally, young forests would be impacted by events such as fire, windthrow, ice, or floods that would destroy old growth to make room for new growth! Over the years, humans have tried to suppress fire to protect their communities and homes. Unfortunately, this is not a healthy management strategy for young forests. Prescribed fire is possible, and some species are dependent upon the heat that fires create. However, we’ve learned that clear cutting and strip cutting are methods we can use to activate regeneration for aspen.