Forest and Wildlife Management

Intensive Establishment of Pine Plantations and Wildlife Habitat

Pine plantation management has shifted in recent years to adopt greater use of herbicides during the establishment of new stands. The herbicides are used to reduce competition with planted pine trees and assure pine survival and site dominance. Because the period from planting to crown closure can be especially important for wildlife dependent on early succession habitats, scientists in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center initiated a long-term study to investigate the potential impacts of intensive management during this period. Commercial pine stands in southern Mississippi’s pine belt were harvested and each stand reestablished using a combination of techniques to create a range of five management intensity levels. Scientists and graduate students have monitored these stands for five years, yielding data on bird communities, small mammal communities, deer forage production, bobwhite quail habitat, and vegetation communities. In the treatment with chemical site preparation only, breeding bird communities made use of snags and had greater species richness than in other treatments where mechanical treatment had removed snags. Small mammals were unaffected by treatment, perhaps because most of those found were habitat generalists capable of using a variety of areas. Deer forage was most abundant, but less nutritious, on the least intensive treatment. Using herbicides during site preparation allowed medium-intensity treatments to grow more nutritious forbs and legumes, making them more valuable for lactating does. Bobwhite foraging habitat was of equal quality in most years, though total forage production was lower in treatments which applied broadcast herbicide after planting to control competition from herbaceous plants. Vegetation communities in medium-intensity treatments showed more typical "oldfield" succession than either high- or low-intensity treatments, which tended to be dominated by woody plants more quickly. Plant diversity was inversely related to treatment intensity throughout all five years. Three more years of data collection are slated for this project. Future goals include continuing observations until one or more treatments reach crown closure, and developing a model for estimating nutritional carrying capacity for deer in pine-dominated landscapes.