Why are so many Frederick County residents turning to Tree Farming? Part IV: Wildlife – Frederick News Post

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Depending on geographic and climate conditions, different trees grow in a tree farm or family forest. These differences define which ecological community may call it home. A forest with a diversity of canopy levels has more potential to attract a greater variety of wildlife, and unbroken sections of forest can also host a group of animals called Forest Interior Dwelling Species, or FIDS.In Frederick County, for example, a ridge-top forest such as Gambrill State Park is mostly composed of chestnut, oaks, red maple, black gum, and a variety of pines. These create favorable denning habitats for bear, bobcat, gray fox, rattlesnake and perhaps the Alleghany wood rat, an endangered species known to exist in Frederick County. In contrast, in marshy glade areas such as the floodplain around Jan and Dave Barrow’s Middle Creek tree farm, trees such as hazel alder, ninebark, silky dogwood, black willow, arrow wood viburnum, hazelnut and bladderwort dominate. These create attractive habitat for woodcock, red winged blackbird, waterfowl, beavers, muskrat, weasel and bear.Old fields, left fallow for five to 10 years, will grow herbaceous plants such as grasses, forbs, brambles and sedges, along with scattered woody plants like cedar, flowering dogwood, redbud, wild cherry and elm, to name a few. These “pioneer” species typically colonize their sites through wind- or wildlife-dispersed seed.As old fields disappear or transition to young forests in our county, wildlife that depends on these habitats, such as loggerhead shrike, bob-o-link and quail, also vanish. Forest loss can also increase the risk of animal-borne infectious diseases, which jump from animals to humans. Some examples are the West Nile Virus, which has been shown to impact bird populations; some coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS-CoV; and zoophilic vectors (i.e., tics), which adapt to human blood as an alternative source of food.Trees usually develop cavities when they grow older or die. Most of our woodland dwelling birds live in and around trees’ hollow sections or build nests in the canopy. Dead standing “snags” are also home to all sorts of insects that become food for birds, including woodpeckers, which chisel out additional cavities in their quest for grub. Downed snags also offer refuge from the elements. As they decompose, they recycle nitrogen, carbon and other nutrients back into the ground thereby enriching the soil.Many of our woodland birds are particular about the level of canopy where they prefer to build nests. Vireos prefer the upper reaches, while nut hatches feel more comfortable in the mid-story level, for example. Others, like the grouse and northern flicker, spend a lot of their time on the forest floor.Woodland wildlife depends on the seeds that trees produce as a food source. Acorns produced by oaks; nuts of hickory, beech, and walnut; berries produced by trees including sassafras and black cherry; and seeds, cones and samaras produced by trees like tulip poplar, maple and pine are important food sources. Some native trees such as oak are sometimes called “mast trees” because they offer much more nourishment than an invasive species. Wildlife may also feast on a tree’s branches, twigs, buds and flowers or parasites, such as vines, mushrooms and insects living off the tree. Trees also attract numerous insects, which supply abundant food for insectivorous birds and other animals.Mushrooms and lichens are often associated with death and decomposition. However, fungi can work with other species to produce different organisms and give us medicine, food and even pest control — and they can be dazzling in their shapes, colors and sizes. Trees and fungi rely heavily on each other, and we’re just starting to understand how close this relationship is. We know that in the soil, incredible mycelial networks connect trees, allowing them to exchange information and chemicals. German forester Peter Wohlleben dubbed this network the “woodwide web,” because trees communicate through the mycelium. Bacteria and fungi also convert hard-to-digest organic matter into forms other organisms can use, and their strands or “hyphae” physically bind soil particles together, increasing the earth’s ability to retain liquid.At the Frederick County Forestry Board, we encourage you to plant trees for fresh air, clean water, food, cover, shade, shelter, wood, soil, carbon drawdown, wildlife and beauty. You may decide to start a tree farm as a long-term investment.If you already are the lucky owner of existing woodland, we encourage you to enhance its wildlife habitat with these simple steps: Retain large and dead standing trees. Leave large downed trees on the forest floor to provide habitat and help recycle nutrients into the soil or water. Manage for a diverse composition of native tree species and age. Refrain from creating permanent openings in a forest to aid deep woods dependent wildlife. Retain grapevines and control invasive species to promote native plants.This is the last piece in the four-part series Tree Farms: Recreation, Wood, Water and Wildlife, from the Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board. Learn more about the Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board at frederick.forestryboard.org.

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