Winter browse is a wildlife term that refers to food in the form of woody twigs and buds found on trees, shrubs, and vines. Since more nutritious and palatable food is available during the growing season, browse is usually only consumed during the leaner winter months, which makes it very important in maintaining a population of wildlife. Animals that utilize browse in our area include deer, elk, beaver, rabbit, mice, and many others.
The most noteworthy browser we have in our area is the white tail deer. During the winter they survive on both browse and mast (acorns and nuts). Mast is most available in older forests with trees mature enough to produce a lot of seed, especially the oaks. Browse on the other hand is most available in very young stands where the woody vegetation is within reach of the deer. For wildlife, it is best to have an area with both young and mature forest stands. Nut production decreases on over-mature trees, so it’s best to harvest them before they get decrepit.
While clear cutting is visually an unpopular harvesting method, it is an excellent way to create good browse. After trees are cut, their stumps will sprout vigorously to re-grow themselves. Stump sprouts are an important source of new trees to regenerate a forest after a harvest. During this initial flush of growth, sprouts are succulent and readily available for browsing. A clear cut usually produces a thicket of growth for the first few years, which provides protective cover for feeding deer and other wildlife. Clear cuts are best kept small and scattered to reduce their visual impact and diversify the forest habitat.
After around 10-15 years a clear cut forest has grown tall enough to be beyond the reach of deer. If deer management is important, woodland owners should try to stagger timber harvests to maintain a portion of the woodland in a young, sprouting stage.
Here is a partial list of browse plants used by deer. Those most favored are: strawberry bush, privet, honeysuckle, black-gum, cucumber tree, and sumac. Less favored but commonly consumed browse include: red maple, hickory, dogwood, ash, witch hazel, yellow poplar, sour-wood, oak, sassafras, poison ivy, blackberry, blueberry, and elderberry. Browse consumed only as emergency food include: sugar maple, buckeye, birches, hack-berry, hazelnut, red-bud, persimmon, beech, holly, walnut, sweet-gum, hornbeam, pine, sycamore, cherry, locusts, willows, hemlock, and elm.
Good forest and wildlife management usually go hand in hand, and what’s good for one can be good for the other in many cases. For more information on wildlife management contact your local state forestry agency.