Jim Bennett

My brother Richard called the other day wondering why the numbers of birds coming to his feeder has dropped the last few years. He lives on the edge of Hudson overlooking Lake Mallalieu. He’s high on a ridge that circumnavigates most of flowage, mostly old growth oak; the property is mostly shaded that leaves new plant growth limited opportunities. There are no new building, no logging, and digging or forestry projects going on. Life on Lake Mallalieu is stable.

Brother Dick said, “Something has changed since I haven’t moved, but the birds that used to hang out here have.”

A grouse hunter would understand that problem right away because that problem is one grouse hunters deal with all the time. My buddy Jon McCorkle grew up in Northern Wisconsin in a great grouse hunting area, the middle of a county forest. The best thing about county forests is the county forester and the never ending need for wood products. The forester is a farmer of trees. I grew up on a farm and we planted and harvested corn, oats and soy beans annually. Tree farming was a hard concept for a young lad to grasp. 

Trees are grown for a variety of reasons but mostly for pulp products on county properties. Paper products for newspapers, books, magazines and anything you can link to the list. The trees get old and get harvested. New trees are either planted or spring up and the process repeats itself. New growth is a boon for wildlife from deer to grouse to songbirds. The lumbering era changed the landscape and that changed wildlife and as forestry continued some species vanished while others had population explosions. The passenger pigeon and the whitetail deer are good examples of both.

Looking back at Jon’s life growing up he had his favorite’s spots and when you find a hot spot you keep going back, sticking your hand in the cookie jar. Jon put my son Josh and I on some great grouse walks. After a few years we noticed that Jon’s great spots were not as great anymore. Some of those great grouse spots, like the cookies in the jar got eaten up. No we just hunt for new spots that create new memories and it all starts over again.

As for my brother’s dilemma: After a county forestry crew comes in and cuts trees for a crop the land looks like a war was just fought there. That’s something you don’t do on a hill top overlooking a flowage at the end of the Willow River. Wildlife would love it. The old growth forest would be gone new growth would spring up now opened to sunlight. You could plant American bittersweet, cranberry bush, spruce, chokecherry, hazel bush, dogwood, hawthorn, serviceberry, sumac, winterberry and more. In a few years the land would be loaded with songbirds and wildlife. As for property value and angry neighbors, that’s not likely to happen. 

Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix Valley and can be reached at jamesbennett24@gmail.com  for comments. 

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