A weekly blog for all things conservation
By: Adam Chorba, Forest Specialist, Bradford County Conservation District
Forestry is often looked at as a large-scale, long term project and it commonly is. Even though forestry is always about planning ahead and getting the most benefits out of an area, some concepts can be utilized to benefit from a few acres or even just a few trees in a relatively short time frame. If these concepts are done properly, it can have great rewards for both nature and landowner.
The basic concept of a food plot is simple, plant and maintain a forage in a location to attract and benefit wildlife, this at times, can also be applied to a forestry setting. A “Tree Plot” if you will. One tree species that can be great for this is the aspen. Specifically, quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), its name comes from its general appearance and sound of the leaves shaking, quaking or trembling in the slightest breeze. This appearance comes from the leaf’s flattened petiole that sways the leaf back and forth as it catches the wind. Bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata), which gets its name from its leaf margin having “large teeth”. Bigtooth Aspen is a close relative to quaking aspen and has many of the same characteristics however, quaking aspens seem to be a more vigorous sprouter and more of a preferred food source by wildlife making it easier to establish dense stands that the wildlife would utilize more.
Young aspens can create a plentiful, and consistent food and cover source through its leaves, seeds, shoots, and stems for an abundance of game and non-game species. Depending on location and resource availability it is often predictable and remains available well into late winter and early spring when food supplies are often depleted and critical.
Aspen can naturally establish from seed off mature trees in an open or edge type setting, but this type of establishment is minimal and not very productive. Quaking aspens respond best to disturbances, its known as an early successional forest species and is fast growing. It has the ability to stump and root sprout into thickets that could continue to be expanded. These young thickets are often call colonies and are typically all connected through the same root system.
Propagation and Management can be simple, find an existing group of trees and cut them down. This seems backwards but this triggers the trees natural sprouting abilities. Most mature trees found were likely parent trees to a once larger colony that has been lost through natural succession or development of agriculture and typically retain a vast root system ready to be released. For the best results, cut the mature trees down while they are dormant in late winter or early spring, so they have the most potential to resprout. In some cases, simple ground disturbance above the root systems of aspen stands found on field edges can trigger their sprouting ability as well. Once a thicket has established it should be left to propagate on its own for several years, then it can be cut again to stimulate new growth and spread more. Cutting cycles will depend on site quality, browse pressure, and target species to aid, but its typically done in a 10-year cycle.
Quaking aspen can also be an important source of wood, it is commonly used for pulp, flake-board, and other composite products. The wood is light and soft with minimal shrinkage and the surface typically does not splinter. It is often used for pallets, boxes, veneer, and plywood. The wood characteristics make it useful in other miscellaneous products like matchsticks, toys, tongue depressors, spoons, and popsicle sticks.
The aspens can be a great forest management tool throughout all stages of its life and have a great wildlife value for an array of both game and non-game species. They can be fast growing in a wide range of soils and are often used in soil stabilization. Aspen can even have good timber value if left to mature. If this article interests you keep an eye out for more “Small Scale, Big Reward Forest Management Tools” series in the future or if you’re looking for more information, contact your local conservation district.
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.
Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District