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Manage woodlands for wildlife

White-tailed deer in a woodland setting.

To attract wildlife, most landowners do one of three things: Plant trees, dig a pond or create food plots. These may or may not be the most effective strategies. Why?

Remember the four basic needs of wildlife: Food, water, cover and space. Think about your landscape, including your neighbors’ properties and beyond. What’s missing that your target species need? Let those needs guide your planning.

If you want to attract specific wildlife species to your property, your best information source is a wildlife professional in your area. Start by calling your local Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife office; they can help you plan and implement your wildlife conservation strategies.

Branch of aspen tree in winter with red buds
Aspen buds are an important food source for ruffed grouse in winter.

Strategies for improving woodland wildlife habitat

Plant (or retain) patches of dense conifers

Pockets of balsam fir, spruce or other shade-tolerant conifers provide much-needed cover for deer and other species, helping them stay warm in cold weather.

Create and maintain openings in dense forest stands

Openings often include different species than the surrounding forest, including important food species. But openings also increase edge habitat. This may or may not be desirable, depending on your target species.

Mix aspen of different ages

Maintaining aspen of various ages in close proximity is particularly effective for ruffed grouse and white-tailed deer. Young, dense aspen stands provide cover from predators as well as nutritious food (buds) within reach of deer. Older aspen is an excellent food source for grouse.

Plant trees in open areas

If you live in an area with more open field than forest, consider establishing trees on the landscape. Trees provide mast (food) as well as cover and shade for wildlife.

Protect riparian corridors 

Forested areas along waterways provide unique habitat for wildlife. Trees along the water provide shade, cover and (in some cases) unique food sources for wildlife. 

You can harvest timber in riparian corridors, but it’s important to maintain some intact vegetation along stream and river banks.

Feeding stations and food plots

In some cases, feeding stations and planted food plots can be a good idea. But they can also be problematic. There’s evidence that feeding stations can concentrate wildlife and spread disease.

Creating winter habitat for pheasants

When spring weather melts the snow and landscapes become green, it’s easy to forget to make appropriate winter habitat to help pheasants survive the next winter. 

Planning ahead for resident wildlife will make sure you design suitable winter habitat where it’s needed most.

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Eli Sagor, Extension forester; Gary Wyatt, Extension educator; Diomy Zamora, Extension educator; Dean Current and Jill Sackett

Reviewed in 2019

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