Planting native trees and shrubs can benefit wildlife

Most landowners enjoy seeing wildlife on their property. Whether you just have a large backyard or many acres of land that you would like to make more attractive to wildlife, one of the best ways to do so is by planting native Pennsylvania trees and shrubs.

Not only do these plants have the potential to provide valuable food and cover to a wide variety of birds and animals, but they also offer aesthetic value and other benefits to your property such as erosion control or the reclamation of disturbed areas. Now is a good time to do some homework about what plants would be a good fit for the wildlife in your backyard. Several good places to start learning about plantings for wildlife are the websites of the National Wild Turkey Federation (nwtf.org), the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (dcnr.pa.gov) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (pgc.pa.gov).

One of the best sources for native tree and shrub seedlings at reasonable prices is the Pennsylvania Game Commission?s Howard Nursery. The Game Commission began producing seedlings and other plants at this facility in Centre County back in 1954 to supply wildlife food and cover plantings on state game lands. Production at that facility now amounts to 2 to 8 million seedlings each year. In addition to supplying plants for state game lands and to landowners enrolled in the Game Commission?s various access programs, the Howard Nursery also takes orders for plants each spring from landowners interested in providing better habitat on their properties with the use of native trees and shrubs.

In 2018, The Howard Nursery was forced to suspend seedling sales to the public because of low inventories of many species and germination failure in several species of conifers. Public sales resumed on a limited basis last year and will continue for 2020. “Normally it takes three years to grow conifers and sometimes two years to grow hardwood trees from seed,” said Brian Stone, manager at Howard Nursery. ?Our surplus of conifers and oaks is up from last year; next year we hope to have a greater supply of soft fruited species like domestic apple and wild plum.

The Howard Nursery is now accepting orders for spring planting. Some of the species available for 2020 are white pine, red pine, Norway spruce, red oak, sawtooth oak, Washington hawthorn and black locust. Seedlings are sold in units of 25. Orders of 12 or more total units qualify for applicable discounted pricing. With the discount, prices are as low as $5.50 per unit. Regular price ranges from $7.50 to $9.50, depending upon the seedling species.

An order form and information about the seedlings available and planting recommendations can be found on the Game Commission?s website, www.pgc.pa.gov. Place your cursor over ?Information & Resources? in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then click on “Make a Purchase” to find the 2020 Seedling Order Form. Completed order forms can be submitted online or printed and mailed. Orders can also be placed by calling Howard Nursery at 355-4434. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

It’s advisable to get your seedling order in as early as possible, as some species tend to sell out quickly. If you are not sure what trees or shrubs might be suitable for your property, check out the ?Tree Seedlings Index? link, which provides a chart with information on each type of plant along its site preferences, what wildlife species it benefits and more.

After relatively mild weather for nearly a month, winter began to make its presence known late last week with colder temperatures, brutal winds and snow showers. As the reality of winter sets in, it’s probably worth a reminder that feeding wildlife during the winter might seem like a worthwhile and compassionate gesture, the conventional wisdom on this practice is simply ?don?t do it.”

In most cases, putting out food for wild animals usually does more harm than good for plenty of reasons. Artificially feeding larger wild animals such as deer, elk and wild turkeys is especially discouraged. The metabolisms of wild deer and elk adjust to the foods available to them as the seasons change throughout the year. Corn, wheat, barley and other grains high in carbohydrates typically aren?t part of the winter diet of deer or elk, so the animals won?t be able to digest such foods properly and eating quantities of them can be fatal.

Even though well intended, providing handouts for winter wildlife can also be illegal. Feeding wild elk is prohibited anywhere these animals are found in Pennsylvania. With the discovery of white-tailed deer infected with chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania back in 2012, the Game Commission has designated specific Disease Management Areas to help control the spread of the disease.

Any feeding of wild deer within a DMA is prohibited, and anyone caught doing so will be subject to fines and other legal action. Unfortunately, most of our region is included within DMA 2 or DMA 3. DMA 2 comprises all of Bedford County, most of Blair and Huntingdon counties, and parts of Cambria, Somerset, Fulton, Franklin, Adams, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Snyder and Northumberland counties. DMA 3 comprises parts of Armstrong, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. The specific boundaries for both DMAs can be found on the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.