Hinge Cutting - An Unsafe & Unsustainable Activity
As hunting season has drawn to an end landowners are ready to begin implementing improvements to the wildlife habitat on their property!
There are many folks getting out and doing on-the-ground work that can be great for improving their forest: Invasive species control, artificial tree/shrub planting, and forest stand improvement. But there is one unacceptable activity that is becoming the new "fad" to "increase" understory vegetation:
This newly introduced management strategy, recommended by "habitat & whitetail experts", should have no place in a landowner's tool box (in my professional opinion) and here is why:
1) The most important reason; it is UNSAFE! Hinge cutting is not an approved method of felling a tree (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). This type of felling, that causes an intentional "barber-chair", could lead to serious injury or even death!
2) Not doing it for the right reasons: Why exactly is there no understory vegetation? Well in most cases a lack of understory vegetation is due to an over population of whitetail deer (in relation to the carrying capacity of that forest), a lack of forest management (i.e. dense canopy, invasive plant species, etc.), or a combination of both. In the simplest of terms: If you are only managing a symptom (lack of understory vegetation) of the actual problem, rather than the actual problem (overpopulation of whitetail deer/ lack of forest management): then the actual problem will never go away.
3) These sites often become hotspots for invasive plant species. Yes, the idea is that these locations will be thriving with native herbaceous plants and seedlings, but in the vast majority of hinge cut sites (that I encounter) the actual problem was never managed and all of the native plants that were suppose to be there have been over browsed, and overtaken, by invasive plant species.
4) It is not sustainable for the longevity of the forest. Again, if the actual problem is not managed then you will continue to see a lack of native understory vegetation in the long run. Hinge cut trees may provide understory vegetation for a short time but it is only a short term solution.
5) There are plenty of science based management strategies that can achieve the same goal of increasing understory vegetation: Whitetail deer population control (antlerless harvest), invasive plant species control, artificial planting, and science based silvicultural harvest techniques (forest stand improvement, group selection, shelterwood, etc.). Some of these strategies even provide a significant monetary value to the landowner's pocket!
So I hope as a landowner, who is an active steward of your forest, you truly consider all of the factors at play before implementing any type of forest management. Above all avoid poor management strategies like "hinge cutting" and seek out appropriate management techniques (felling, girdling, hack & squirt, etc.) when all factors of forest management have been considered and you are ready to begin implementing improvements to the wildlife habitat on your property!