In late January members of the North Mountain Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association and the Red Rock Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation cut all the red maple trees over a several acre area on State Game Lands 57 in Wyoming County.
The purpose of the work was to provide browse and cover for deer and other wildlife.
Six months later, the benefits are evident.
The limbs of every red maple on the ground were neatly trimmed by browsing deer that nipped off the succulent buds just days after the trees were cut. The area is a tangle of fallen logs - providing crucial habitat to ground-nesting birds, and the red maple stump sprouts along with spruce saplings are thriving in the bright sunlight that now reaches the forest floor.
“By daylighting this area and eliminating the competition from red maple, these other species like spruce and cherry will really thrive here,” said Jim Jolley, land management group supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northeast Region. “When these maple sprouts establish and get taller, it will be able to be cut again and the regeneration process will be repeated. It’s a good cycle for wildlife.”
Such projects provide some much-needed habitat diversity on the 48,000-acre SGL 57.
But the red maple cuts aren’t the only projects being conducted on the vast tract.
The North Mountain Branch and Red Rock Chapter partner with the PGC every year to plant and maintain acres of food plots dotted across SGL 57. Last week there was plenty of evidence of how valuable the food plots are as turkey hens with poults strutted through the thick grass gobbling insects, and deer had worn trails into the plots as they feat on the grass and clover at dusk.
But such benefits don’t come without work.
Steve Germick, vice-president of the North Mountain Branch, said his group of volunteers logged 500 hours doing habitat work on SGL 57 last year.
This year they have been piling up the hours again, beginning with the cuts in late winter followed by frost-seeding clover in early March.
Frost-seeding utilizes the freeze/thaw cycles to work the clover seed into the soil. By getting a head start on planting, Germick said his group can dedicate more time later in the spring to construct more food plots.
“We try to do as much as we can,” he said. “So far we planted 14 new acres this year and maintained another 10 acres of clover.”
Much of that maintenance work consists of mowing, which Germick said invigorates stands of white clover and reduces the amount of weeds in the plot.
Once planting wraps up around the end of July, Germick said his group will work with the PGC to purchase lime and rent a spreader to place it on remote food plots that are inaccessible by truck.
“It’s nice because everything benefits from this work - both game and non-game species,” Germick said. “By working together with the PGC and the Red Rock Chapter, we’re able to put a substantial amount of food and cover on the ground for all wildlife. State Game Lands 57 and even 13, which adjoins it, are so vast with so much wooded area that they need these openings.
“It’s like having an agricultural area right in the middle of a wilderness.”
While the food plot work slows down in the fall during hunting season, the volunteers will be right back at it in the dead of winter cutting more browse for deer and creating cover for other wildlife.
It’s a never-ending cycle, one that Germick said is always rewarding.
“When you see a turkey with poults or deer and bear feeding in the food plots, that’s what motivates everybody to do this,” he said. “We’re all hunters, and as you get older you want to give back to the resource and do something that benefits all wildlife and the future generations who will use this game lands.”