Foresters, game biologists, amateur wildlife enthusiasts, nonprofessional environmentalists, and others disagree on the value of southern conifer forests as habitat for game and other wildlife. Value depends on the kinds of animals and on the period in the life or rotation of a dynamic forest.
Dense virgin stands were likely poor habitat for white-tailed deer because closed canopies excluded browse shrubs and grazing broadleaf herbs, or forbs. A clear-cut harvest, in contrast, encourages doveweed, ragweed, Bermuda and carpet grasses. Soon, this ground cover is joined by trailing bean and milk peas. With ecological succession accompanying natural regeneration to another pine stand, broadleaf herbs give way to sod-forming broomsedge and other tall grasses. Woody shrubs then enter the stand, and the herbaceous forbs and grasses pass from the regenerated stand. Deer food is therefore plentiful for 6 to 10 years after clearcutting, with the population of the mammal diminishing as stands close to exclude ground vegetation and shrubs.
Optimum numbers of cottontail rabbits occur at about the same time as deer in the life of a pine forest, though some rabbits are found in all stages of second-growth woods. Cottontails feed on the Andropogon grasses of open fields. Jack rabbits in contrast, are most plentiful in grazed forests, seeming to appear from nowhere right after a timber harvest. They are gone from the pineries within 5 years after stand regeneration. If the cutting is in a bottomland, rabbits browse after herbaceous plants are crowded out and the underbrush has thickened. Rabbits are especially serious pests in plantations; more than 90 percent of newly planted pine seedlings may be nipped. Rabbits even prune lateral branches from older seedlings.
Red wolves long ago left most of the southern forest, though efforts to reintroduce them have been initiated. Gray foxes, in contrast, are abundant. They are most numerous 15 years after a harvest, when birds, fruits, and sheltering vegetation are abundant. Fox squirrels, which usually lose their dens in clearcutting, may be expected to re-inhabit a site in about 5 years after a stand's reestablishment.
As for birds, clearcutting dramatically alters the tally of an Audubon check-list. Quail are most numerous 4 to 10 years after cutting; they do not inhabit tall, thick, second-growth stands older than 15 years. Mourning doves frequent cutover lands 5 years after harvest. The disappearance of the red-cockaded woodpecker from the southern pine forests and its reappearance with appropriate management practices will be considered later. The ivory-billed woodpecker's demise occurred with the harvest of the old-growth pine-hardwood forests. The passenger pigeon also no longer nests in these, or any, woods. We now consider these hard, yellow pines in more detail.
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