Foster said agency officials have known for years that wildlife habitat was declining on many WMAs, and especially on those acquired 50 to 60 years ago. "We've been working for a couple of years now on a plan to convert some of that poor habitat to early successional habitat," he said. "Now we're starting to act on the plan."
The Elk River cut was, in essence, the DNR's pilot project for future cuts. The timber company, working in conjunction with Clarke and staff forester Terry Jones, used a variety of cutting methods.
"We did clear cuts, selective cuts, shelter-wood cuts and what I call 'variable retention' cuts," Jones said. "We also created water holes and savannahs."
Wildlife managers from throughout the state toured the site as part of a DNR-sponsored two-day workshop. Jones explained why each type of cut was used in its particular location, which tree and plant species had sprouted in each location, and which wildlife species were benefiting from the new growth.
He also explained how cuts of less than 50 acres would probably fail.
"Most of these areas have deer on them, and if there are enough deer, they'll hit that new growth - particularly young oak trees - hard enough to prevent regeneration. You have to make the cuts large enough, and create enough young new growth, that the deer can't eat it all."
Arranging a timber sale seems a lot easier than it really is. Jones said DNR officials have to consider the environmental impacts, especially if endangered species are involved; they have to consider whether cultural or historical landmarks might be affected; they have to gain approval from the DNR director and from the governor. They have to put the contract out for competitive bids, and the state's attorney general has to sign off on the process.
"It's a 16-step process," Jones said. "There's a lot more to it than just contacting a timber outfit."
Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief, believes the prospect of creating better habitat for wildlife, and thus for hunters and other nature enthusiasts, helps make the laborious process worthwhile.
"This is one of the most exciting programs I've been involved with," he said. "The potential to put good wildlife habitat on the ground is tremendous."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.