Scientists in Mississippi State's Forest and Wildlife Research Center have found a new way to replicate certain features of pre-colonial forests and untangle the pine forests of today. Their goal: to benefit both 21st century forests and the wildlife species inhabiting them.
"Fire was a natural and essential process in Southern pine forests used by Native Americans for land management," said wildlife biologist Steve Demarais, a professor in the university's wildlife and fisheries department. "These fires burned underbrush and promoted growth of vegetation beneficial to wildlife.”
Today, however, many Southeastern pine forests are a tangled mess as a result of fire exclusion. Demarais said the thick, low-quality hardwood brush and trees that flourish beneath the pine canopy make wildlife habitat scarce.
In 1998, MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center joined with BASF Corp. to test the effects of a combined vegetation management regime known as Quality Vegetation Management in a Noxubee County site. The test site was researched by MSU graduate student Scott Edwards of Meridian.
"The key to re-establishing pine wildlife habitat quality is to ‘re-capture' the pine forest from the controlling influence of low-quality hardwood underbrush such as hickory and sweetgum,” Demarais explained. "Our initial study showed that QVM accomplishes this goal.”
With the competition eliminated, the soil nourishes high-quality broad-leaved plants and grasses—native vegetation that provides beneficial habitat for wildlife species.
"We identified 99 plant species in QVM-treated forests, compared to 38 in untreated areas,” said Wes Burger, avian ecologist and wildlife and fisheries professor. "This native vegetation serves as a buffet table for deer, turkey, quail, and certain other wildlife.”
In the QVM regime, a selective herbicide is applied in the fall, followed by a prescribed burn during winter. Fertilizer is not required, but will promote faster growth and greater seed production of native plant communities.
"QVM provides cost-effective long-term benefits,” Demarais said. "Establishing QVM costs as little as $115 per acre and the benefits can be maintained with prescribed fire every three to five years. Planting wildlife food plots is nearly three times more expensive without many of the benefits,” he said.
Private, non-industrial landowners hold about 135 million acres in the Southeast. Not realizing the need for active management, many have adopted a "hands-off” forest management approach that promotes low-quality wildlife habitat.
"Landowners can create a mosaic of habitats that game and non-game species use for food and cover by rotating QVM treatments throughout their property,” Burger said. "This type of management creates diversity that benefits all wildlife.”
As a result of the MSU research, agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture included components of QVM for cost-sharing as part of the federal 2002 Farm Bill. Landowners with conservation reserve program pine plantations may benefit from these financial programs. Additionally, the Mississippi Forestry Commission offers financial assistance to establish QVM.
A new study comparing the cost-effectiveness of QVM on mid-rotation pine production and wildlife habitat quality is being funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of MSU's Wildlife and Fisheries Economic Enterprises federal initiative. Research and demonstration sites have been established in northern and southern parts of the state by the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, MSU Extension Service, and BASF Corp.
For more information on QVM, contact Steve Demarais at (662) 325-2618 or by e-mail at email@example.com.