Newsletter Stories

Wednesday, 15 November 2023
Deer Control Reimagined

By: Thomas Kain

Deer browsing of hardwood seedlings after harvesting is a problem in the Northeastern United States. Deer browse can damage up to 70% of the regenerating commercially desirable hardwood species. Since 2017, researchers at Cornell University in New York State have trialed walls made from tops, low-grade material, and branches left over after a harvest rather than using wire fencing to exclude deer from regenerating hardwood stands. Researchers in other Northeastern and Lake States have also established slash-wall study areas to measure the effectiveness and cost of this deer browse control method on seedling height growth and survival.

All control methods have advantages and disadvantages. Hunting in most situations is not sufficient to control excessive deer herds. Tree shelters, 5-foot-tall plastic tubes installed over each seedling to prevent browsing, can be effective but are labor-intensive to install and maintain. Erecting ten-foot-tall wire fences around the hardwood regeneration area has proven effective. Still, the wire fences require periodic maintenance. They are removed once the desirable hardwood seedlings are tall enough to withstand deer browse, generally about five feet tall, which takes five to ten years. Timber walls measure twenty feet wide and ten feet tall. They require little maintenance, allow other animals access to the regeneration area while preventing deer access, and will decompose on site.

I have found that FSC US Forest Management certificate holders are forward-thinking first adopters of new methods like timber walls. Tim Fenstermacher, the forest manager for Dwight Lewis Lumber Companies FSC certified Forest Management units, has sought the Cornell researchers' advice about constructing timber walls around a recently harvested area on the lands he manages for Dwight Lewis Lumber Companies Pennsylvania timberlands. Cornell researchers have found that timber wall costs are about half the cost of wire fencing. During my recent visit, Tim showed me their first attempt at a timber wall built next to another area constructed with traditional wire fencing. Since this is Dwight Lewis Lumber's first use of the timber wall technique, they are interested in studying the pros and cons over time. The site also has educational tours to educate the forestry community on this practice.

Tim has learned a few lessons from the first attempt, including using material within 100 feet of the intended wall location. Skidding material for wall construction is not cost-effective. Avoid sharp corners when constructing walls because it takes longer to build than curved corners. A fourth lesson learned during construction was to clear enough trees away from the wall so that the operator has enough room to use the excavator efficiently during construction.

Researchers at Cornell University have published several research papers and have numerous YouTube videos for people interested in learning more about this technique. Dwight Lewis Lumber is just one of many FSC Forest Management Certificate Holders around the country who are attempting new solutions to old problems. Time will tell if Dwight Lewis Lumber can achieve similar positive cost, survival, and height growth responses that other managers have achieved.