‘Edge feathering’ offers protection for wildlife

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Editor’s Note: This article was provided by the Perry County Soil and Water Conservation District

PERRY COUNTY – Woodland edges next to crop land and pasture or in fence rows have grown from brushy transition zones to big trees.

This brushy transition area is important for several wildlife species, including rabbits, quail, and some songbirds. The loss of this edge has resulted in the loss of important habitat. To restore this, edge feathering can be applied to the edges and fence rows to promote low-growing shrubs and weedy areas.

The best time of year to apply edge feathering is after leaf fall, October through March. Edge feathering should extend from 30 to 50 feet into the woodland edge, or in narrow fence rows the entire width of the fence row.

Feathering should be completed on areas between 50 and 75 feet in length along the edge or fence row. Alternate treated and undisturbed sites 200 to 300 feet in length along the edge. In future years, additional sites can be created in the undisturbed areas.

First, use an approved herbicide such as glyphosate to treat any fescue or other sod forming grasses under the tree canopy. This is best preformed in the fall after the leaves have fallen from any existing desirable shrubs, and while grasses are still green and growing. The removal of sod forming grasses will allow for the establishment of beneficial, naturally occurring plants, forbs and shrubs.

Second, treat all woody vegetation greater than 4 inches in diameter within the practice area. Use a chainsaw, tree clipper, or hydro-axe to cut selected trees. This is best conducted in the fall after leaf fall and when the sap is down. Allow desirable fruit-bearing trees to grow.

Logs can be harvested for posts, lumber or firewood and leaving the tops in a shingle-like fashion in the treatment area. Native grasses, forbs and weeds will grow up through the tree top branches and provide excellent escape and winter cover for rabbits, quail and songbirds.

Third, treat the stumps of undesirable tree species to prevent resprouting. As tree species begin to grow in the treated area and start to shade out the understory again, apply the practice to adjacent areas to replace the maturing areas. It is best to set up a maintenance regime where no more than one-third of the existing edge sites are treated in a given year.