Seeps in the Snow

Joshua VanBrakle Monday, 18 January 2016

5.0/5 rating 1 vote

If you wander your woods on a snowy day, you might come across an area of surprising green, like the one in the photo below. These areas are called seeps, and if you’re fortunate enough to have one, you have an excellent winter home for wildlife on your hands.

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Seeps form where groundwater pokes through the soil and starts to flow. They may be self-contained, or they may flow into larger streams.

Because of their small size, seeps usually won’t show up on maps. The best way to find them is to head out on a sunny day when there’s snow on the ground and look for the patches of green amid the white.

What makes seeps special is that they’re formed by groundwater, not surface water. That means their temperature isn’t determined by the weather. Instead, the water stays a constant temperature year-round. Depending on where you live, it can vary between about 50 and 60 degrees. That’s why they stay wet and green even in bitter, snow-covered winters.

That’s also why wildlife love them. Critters know they can depend on seeps for fresh, warmer water during cold months.

They also know there’ll be food. Seeps’ warmer ground temperature keeps plants growing and insects active, so creatures come from far and wide for a meal.

Seeps are especially important during snowy winters, when most food sources are buried. Once the snow gets above 4 inches, for instance, about 85% of wild turkey feeding occurs in seeps and the small streams immediately connected to them.

Even as winter ends, seeps keep on showing their value. Since they’re already warm, seeps start growing spring plants like wildflowers sooner than other areas, making them preferred dining spots for animals recovering from winter. And because of their abundant water, they’re also important breeding areas for amphibians like frogs and salamanders.

Unfortunately, as important as seeps are for wildlife, they’re also among the most vulnerable places on your land. The same warm groundwater that keeps them thawed out for wildlife also means that they rarely dry, freeze, or otherwise firm up enough to handle vehicles. Driving ATVs or logging equipment through a seep can quickly change the drainage, foul the water, and ruin the site for wildlife.

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If you have seeps on your property, it’s best to keep vehicles out of them. Reroute trails around them, and if you have logging on your land, have your forester mark these areas off with flagging or paint so loggers know to avoid them.

If you want to make your seeps even better for wildlife, focus on keeping larger hardwood trees as well as smaller species that provide fruits and seeds for animals, like serviceberry and hornbeam. Cutting out some smaller trees to create a more open space is also desirable, since you want enough light to reach the ground to allow shorter plants to grow. Aim for about 60% tree cover.

If you do cut trees in a seep, it’s best to leave the fallen trees in place. Most will be too small for lumber anyway, and you won’t risk damaging the seep by dragging them out with equipment.

Seeps aren’t the only wet areas important for wildlife. If you want more tips on keeping water supplies on your property in good shape, check out the MyWoodlot Interest Protect Water.

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