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OUTSIDE: Winter Wildlife Cuisine

By Steve Roark

Tri-State Outside

Browse is a wildlife term referring to food in the form of woody twigs and buds found on trees, shrubs, and vines. Since more nutritious and palatable food is available during the growing season, browse is usually only consumed during the leaner winter months, which makes it critical in maintaining a wildlife population. Animals that utilize browse in our area include deer, elk, beaver, rabbit, mice, and others.

The most noteworthy browser in our area is the white tail deer. During winter they survive on both browse and hard mast (acorns and nuts). Mast is most available in older forests with trees mature enough to produce a lot of seed, especially the oaks. Browse on the other hand is most available in very young stands where the woody vegetation is within reach of the deer. For wildlife, it is best to have an area with both young and mature forest stands. Nut production decreases on over-mature trees, so it’s best to harvest them before they get decrepit.

While clearcutting is visually an unpopular harvesting method, it is an excellent way to create good browse. After trees are cut, their stumps will sprout vigorously and are a major source of new trees to regenerate a forest after a harvest. During this initial flush of growth, sprouts are succulent and readily available for browsing. A clearcut usually produces a thicket of growth for the first few years, which provides protective cover for feeding deer and other wildlife. Clearcuts are best kept small and scattered to reduce their visual impact and diversify the forest habitat. After 15 years a clearcut forest will grow beyond the reach of deer browsing, so if deer management is important, woodland owners should try to stagger timber harvests to maintain a portion of the woodland in a young, brushy stage.

Here is a partial list of browse plants used by deer. Those most favored are strawberry bush, privet, honeysuckle, blackgum, cucumber tree, and sumac. Less favored but commonly consumed browse include red maple, hickory, dogwood, ash, witch hazel, yellow poplar, sourwood, oak, sassafras, poison ivy, blackberry, blueberry, and elderberry. Browse consumed only as emergency food include sugar maple, buckeye, birches, hackberry, hazelnut, redbud, persimmon, beech, holly, walnut, sweetgum, hornbeam, pine, sycamore, cherry, locusts, willow, hemlock, and elm.

Good forest and wildlife management usually go hand in hand, and what’s good for one can be good for the other in many cases. For more information on wildlife management contact your local state forestry or wildlife agency.