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The Chainsaw - An Overlooked Habitat Management Tool

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There are many tools managers can use to manipulate wildlife habitat. The potential a chainsaw offers as a management tool is often overlooked. Most habitat management manipulations center around prescribed burning and grazing management. These are the most commonly used "extensive" habitat management tools in our area and usually require less time and expense than "intensive" tools such as plowing, dozing, herbicides, etc.

However, Mother Nature or government administrators are not always cooperative when managers attempt to implement prescribed fire. Organizing labor when weather fits the prescribed plan and burn bans are just a couple of obstacles that reduce the opportunity for and hinder the use of prescribed fire. Also, some managers may not have adequate experience, the proper tools or the ability to use prescribed fire. When using grazing management, it is often difficult to manage livestock in a manner conducive to both habitat and livestock objectives, and some managers may not have the ability or desire to own and manage livestock. Additionally, prescribed fire or grazing may not be the best tool to accomplish some habitat management objectives.

Wooded areas dominated by post oak or other timber often lack herbaceous vegetation and are not suited for grazing by cattle. A common habitat management goal in these areas is to increase plant diversity and structure by creating openings. Fire alone may not adequately reduce tree density or overhead canopy cover to allow sunlight to reach the ground and stimulate the growth of herbaceous vegetation. In this situation, a chainsaw can be a very effective tool for creating openings. When using a chainsaw, a manager can be more selective regarding the location of openings, the size of the openings and the species of tree cut. Felled trees can be left in place to provide temporary cover for many species of wildlife. Stumps can either be treated with herbicide to prevent resprouting or, depending on the species, left untreated to allow the stumps to resprout and provide browse and temporary cover for deer and other species of wildlife. Using a chainsaw to create openings is an excellent method to supplement the use of prescribed fire. Openings created with a chainsaw can be maintained with periodic prescribed fire.

A chainsaw can also be used to "half-cut" trees located along fence rows, field edges and other areas in order to increase cover and browse available for wildlife. Cover for bobwhite quail can be enhanced by half-cutting trees along brushy fence rows or in relatively open areas containing small trees. Half-cutting can also increase browse availability for white-tailed deer by placing the tree canopy closer to the ground. Small trees about 3 to 8 inches in diameter work best for half-cutting. To half-cut, simply use a chainsaw to cut about half to two-thirds of the way through the trunk and then bend the tree over by hand. Cutting farther makes the tree easier to bend over, but the top may die. With a little trial and error, a manager can quickly get the hang of it. Some trees are better suited for half-cutting than others. Winged elm, slippery elm, American elm, hackberry, mesquite and bois 'd arc are trees that can be half-cut successfully. I know what you're thinking, let's half-cut oak trees so deer can browse the leaves and twigs, and also have access to acorns. Unfortunately, oaks are much more difficult to half-cut successfully. However, a chainsaw can be used to reduce competition with good mast-producing trees such as oaks by removing other trees competing for sunlight and other nutrients.

Safety is very important to keep in mind when operating a chainsaw. A chainsaw can be very dangerous if the operator does not know how to use one properly. Operating a chainsaw above shoulder level is a definite breach of safety rules. Kick back caused by improper cutting methods can also cause serious injury. Proper engine maintenance and keeping the chain sharp will lengthen the life of your chainsaw and reduce safety hazards. Be sure to read and understand the operator's manual before operating a chainsaw.

A chainsaw is one of the best habitat management tools available to managers when used safely. A chainsaw can be used regardless of burn bans, most weather conditions and anytime during the year. So the next time you think about improving wildlife habitat on your property, don't forget the potential a chainsaw may offer.