Early successional forest habitat (ESH) is characterized by very dense growth of bushes and saplings. Due to natural processes of succession, early successional forest habitats are constantly changing, typically lasting less than 20 years before vegetation structure and species composition mature or succeed into a substantially different habitat type. ESH can manifest itself as old fields and hedgerows, forest edges, and managed forests, ranging anywhere from shrubby grasslands to young forest under 20 years of age.
Benefits for Wildlife /Importance of ESH:
ESH and related wildlife species are in decline in New York State. This type of habitat supports Golden-winged Warblers, American Woodcock, New England Cottontail, and other important wildlife species by offering cover, nesting, and feeding opportunities. The thick underbrush that usually characterizes ESH provides low cover for rabbits and a substrate for nest or cover for many birds. The density of foliage, berries, and other browse is also a useful food source, particularly in the winter for species like the White-tailed Deer.
While overall forest cover has been steadily increasing since the mid 19th century, the portion of seedling and sapling forest has decreased from 45% in 1968 to just over 10% in 2006. Correlated declines have been observed among many of the species dependent upon the various stages of ESH during different points in their life-cycle. For example, Ruffed Grouse populations have declined by more than 75% since the 1960s, and American Woodcock populations have declined by more than 50%. Like many wildlife species, woodcock need a mosaic of different age structures depending upon the life stage to accommodate their diverse feeding, reproductive, and safety needs. Woodcock typically require openings to sing in during the breeding season and shrublands and thickets for nesting.
ESH, by nature, is ephemeral when it is left to the laws of succession and grows beyond ESH on its own. Therefore, it may require management to maintain the wildlife benefits sought by the presence of ESH. For example, a Ruffed Grouse drumming male usually first appears in a 10-year-old forest, becomes common at the 15-year forest stage, and then declines within a 20-year-old forest. In contrast, a Common Yellowthroat first appears with a 2-year-old forest, become common at 6, and then declines around 10 years.Management techniques to work to maintain ESH in its various forms and associated benefits can be found in the “Landowners & ESH” and “Further Information on ESH” sections of the website.
Given that 77% of New York’s forest lands are privately owned, the existence of adequate ESH hinges on private forest landowners undertaking management activities.