Young forests are a key part of an ecosystem. Also known as early successional habitats, they are an area of young trees, plants, shrubs and flowers. They replace forests that have been damaged by fire or weather conditions as well as those that have been clear cut. According to John Litvaitis, a wildlife ecology professor at the University of New Hampshire, a young forest is “a transitional stage in New England and many parts of the country.” It is vital that the cycle of replacement continues to support the diverse ecosystem and to sustain habitats.
There are many types of young forests, which benefit different wildlife. There are brushlands, wetlands, pine barrens, shrub swamps and abandoned fields. There is one thing a young forest needs: sunlight. Sunlight helps regenerate growth from tree roots and seedlings. Surprisingly, the growth of a young forest is 20 years. During this time, it is home to abundant wildlife, such as the Eastern Towhee, wild bees, and the Box Turtle. The types of trees that are found in young forests are Aspen, Birch, Alder and Poplar because they grow quickly and are hardy species. After 20 years, the forest has matured and it doesn’t supply the food and shelter some wildlife need. For example, a young forest produces “20 times more fruit” than a mature one. And the stump sprouts of trees are perfect for birds’ nests.
Sadly, young forests are disappearing or not being replanted. In Pennsylvania, “50% of young forests have disappeared since 1960,” per Tammy Colt, regional wildlife diversity biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Some reasons for the disappearance of young forests include rivers being dammed, suppressing wildfires and landowners preferring mature forests. Landowners can create young forests on their properties. The best way to go about this is to talk to a forester. This person can give valuable information on the how-to basics. The cost of having a forester come out to your property can be partially covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Working Lands for Wildlife program and other non-profit groups.
It’s important to note that there is no “one size fits all” young forest. Some wildlife prefer a young forest dominated by grasses, whereas others prefer one that is dominated by shrubs. By replanting young forests, we regenerate ecosystems that provide the necessary shelter and food sources for wildlife to thrive. Also, planting trees helps the environment by producing oxygen, removing contaminants in the air, reducing erosion and more.