It’s Prime Time for Habitat Work with your Chainsaw!

Okay, well, let’s just say that it will be in a few days when the Iowa late-muzzleloader season is over.  So we are getting close.

And, I know, I know, some folks will want to wait until the deer drop their antlers to barge into the timber and start cutting.  I often do this too.  But, you know, the truth is, guys and girls in the timber doing chainsaw work doesn’t really bother deer.

Deer know how to sense danger.  And deer know that a chainsaw is not normally associated with danger.

In fact, to a whitetail, the loud moaning of a chainsaw is often a calling card.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve downed trees in the snow and come back the next day to find the place littered with fresh deer sign.  And I can’t tell you how many times, on big multi-day management projects for clients, that we’ve found fresh deer antlers shed on the very slopes that we’ve just spent hours cutting on.

So, that’s right…now is THE time to hit the woods with a saw in your hand!


Man cutting tree with chainsaw in Iowa.

Of course, you probably know some of the reasons why wintertime is often the best time to hit the woods — saw in hand.

It’s cold outside and that means no pesky bugs or stinging nettles and way less chance to make contact with poison ivy too.  I can tell you what – those are three pretty good reasons right there!

In fact, those are great reasons to get out there right now with your saw.  And there are more.

It’s also much more comfortable to be out there horsing and man or woman handling that saw around those trees.  It’s not easy work lugging a heavy saw through the woods from tree to tree and from area to area, that’s for sure.  So it’s easy to work up a sweat – even when it 15 or 20 degrees out!   (don’t forget you are usually lugging a small gas can, bar oil, and maybe a few tools and some lunch around as well).

And I can tell you what, doing all of that horsing and saw lugging around when it’s mid-July and in the 90’s is not as much fun as when icicles are dangling from the trees!

Now is the time.

It’s also the best time to prevent any diseases to be spread from tree to tree via the saw blade (oak wilt).

Of course, before doing any cutting you must first identify what sort of work needs to be done.


Picture of Iowa timber.


Timber stand improvement (TSI) is one such goal.

Under this heading falls the subheadings for TSI:  crop tree release, understory release/management and cull tree removal.

Lots of people talk about doing TSI to help make things thicker so that the land can hold more and bigger deer.  This is generally true and is a side product of the actual process.

The main goal of doing TSI, though, usually and from a forestry perspective, is to enhance the forestry component – that is, to make certain trees grow faster and produce more mast (studies have shown that properly done crop tree release tsi can make the desired “crop” trees grow 2x as fast and with up to 10x more mast production!)

The side benefit of doing TSI is the resulting thicker habitat created because more light can hit the forest floor (so more woody vegetation/and or grasses can grow).

The more light that hits the forest floor, generally, the thicker, and more diverse, the habitat on the forest floor becomes.  This creates bedding, sanctuary and thermal cover for deer and also nesting and escape cover for turkeys.  It also produces better habitat for lots of non-game species like songbirds.

If you want to do TSI, it is first recommended to hire a consulting forester to come out to your property and meet with you to discuss your goals.  Every property is different and each timber has it’s own “prescription” for the proper TSI “recipe” that needs to be created to reach those goals.

You can also call the district forester that works the county that your property is in. She or he will help you.

You should know, too, that lots of cost-share dollars are often available to do TSI – funding for up to 75% of the estimated project cost may be available!

Please be aware:  do not start doing any TSI project before your project is approved (if you are getting cost-share help from the government).

You are not allowed to start a project until the funding comes in and your project is approved or your funding may be taken away.

Okay – maybe your are not doing TSI but just want to get out there and create some better habitat with your saw – what to do? 

Where to start?

First, again, be sure to think about your long-term goals.  Do you want it to be thicker in that little half-acre spot behind the pond?  Or, maybe there is a south-facing hillside that you’d like to create better bedding and thermal cover?  Or, perhaps, you want to help some of those red cedar and honey locust trees in your sanctuary area – you can use your chainsaw to “release” their canopies from surrounding dead-beat trees (trees with little to no wildlife value).

Go ahead….dig in…now is the time!