Some of the most serious biologists agree that if they had to choose a single tool to manage and manipulate habitat, it would be a chainsaw. Fortunately, we live in a world with more options. The possibilities are virtually endless when you give a habitat manager a chainsaw, the right herbicides, and a well-laid plan. This work can make existing trees and foliage healthier, promote the growth of more nutritious and desirable plants, and ultimately make the land more attractive to wildlife.
One critical note, safety is paramount when cutting down trees. It can become a matter of life or death in the blink of an eye. You never know precisely where that tree will fall. Proper security equipment is a must to execute these practices effectively. This means wearing chaps, a hard hat, hearing protection, and a face shield, not just safety glasses.
The girdle cut
Ringing a tree can be a great solution when you want to reduce an area, but don’t want litter from the ground cutting down a tree completely. A girdle cut is a very shallow slice around the circumference of the tree. The key is to saw through the cambium layer of the tree, a little deeper than the bark. The cambium layer of a tree is where all the nutrients flow, feeding the tree and keeping it alive. When cutting, spray the circumference of the cut with a herbicide solution of glyphosate and water. It is essential to spray the cut within a couple of hours of doing so. Otherwise, the tree will begin to heal, rendering the herbicide ineffective at killing it.
I recommend carrying a spray bottle with you and spraying on the go. If you are treating a large area or more than a few trees, it is helpful to use a brightly colored dye or food coloring in the bottle to quickly and easily identify the trees you have treated. The tree begins to die as soon as you spray the herbicide on the cut. Once the tree dies, the dead stem will usually remain standing for a couple of years, but no foliage will grow. More sunlight reaches the ground, encouraging early successional growth for food and better cover for wildlife.
The hinge cut
The advantages of cutting hinged trees are plentiful. It provides food and habitat at ground level where wildlife lives. They need a covering at head height for bedding and security, as well as for food. It also lets in more sunlight through a more open canopy for early successional growth, more nutrient-rich grasses and plants that deer and other wildlife will eat. It can make bedding areas more attractive and useful. Like any management practice, there is a time and a place for hinge cutting. Proper technique and execution are essential.
Not all trees are suitable or safe for hinge cutting. Consider alternative management techniques such as felling or girdling if the wood is too brittle and prone to cracking, splitting, or breaking. No tree or management is worth risking your safety or anyone else’s. Research through resources from professional wildlife biologists, such as the National Deer Association, for advice on the best trees to cut hinged. When selecting trees, it is best to cut only those of a size that you can confidently control landing. The goal is to cut the tree in such a way that it will fall over leaving enough cambium layer attached or hooked to the main stem, keeping the tree alive and producing foliage for future seasons.
I prefer to cut the waist to chest height on the tree when I cut the hinges. Cut about 75% straight, leaving enough fiber and sapwood to keep the tree alive for several seasons. Angled or 45 degree cuts are not conducive to hinge cuts. These cuts promote dangerous kickbacks and it is easier to go too deep into the tree and damage the cambium layer.
“Felling a tree” is a fancy way of saying to cut down a tree. Carefully assess where you want the tree to fall and make sure the environment allows it to fall there. Let gravity help you and if possible cut the tree with the way it naturally leans.
Once you have determined the direction the tree is likely to fall, cut a horizontal notch about a quarter of the way down the tree on the side of the fall direction. For larger diameter trees (15 inches or more), it is advisable to cut a wedge by placing a diagonal plunge cut a couple of inches below the notch. Then cut to the wedge through the other side of the tree. Once the tree starts to slowly fall, walk away and let gravity bring it down.
Big or small, once the tree is down, you have options. You can leave the stump untreated, which allows new stems to sprout which can be an attractive, nutrient-rich food for wildlife, depending on the tree species. Otherwise, use the glyphosate and water mixture to spray around the cambium layer of the stump, ultimately killing the tree and root system.
Feature image via Captured Creative.