Stewardship Story: Installing a Deer Exclosure at Putnam County Fish and Game Association

Brendan Murphy Monday, 18 September 2017

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The Putnam County Fish and Game Association (PCFGA) owns about 70 acres of woods in central Putnam County, New York. The woods have been actively stewarded since 1985 to provide sportsman education and training to the club’s nearly 600 members. Trails and ranges wind their way through the hilly terrain and mature trees.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck. Between that and Hurricane Irene a year earlier, many of the club’s mature trees were topped by the fierce winds. This would lead to them slowly breaking down and not providing good opportunities for future growth.

That said, large patches of downed trees aren’t necessarily bad for the woods. They make room for the next generation of trees. New seedlings, immersed in sunlight, grow rapidly toward the canopy.

Unfortunately in PCFGA’s case, white-tailed deer had eaten most of the seedlings in their understory. Even with the added sunlight on the ground, the new seedlings couldn’t grow fast enough to escape the deer. The forest couldn’t effectively renew itself. Tom Hall, who chairs forestry for PCFGA, explains how they chose to address the problem.

“We started by having the situation looked at by our forester and contracting with a logger to removed damaged trees and do selective thinning in those areas,” Tom says. “After seeing that we had some areas that bordered on clearcuts, we decided on a deer exclosure. It was an absolutely awesome opportunity to improve this area and show people what the woods look like when there are no deer there.”

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With a goal in sight, Tom reached out to the Watershed Agricultural Council, a local conservation nonprofit, for assistance. They recommended visiting a recently installed deer exclosure at the Clearpool Model Forest in Carmel, NY. Clearpool’s deer exclosure was designed and installed by a team led by Jen Stengle of Putnam Cooperative Extension and Steve Knapp of On Earth Plant Care. Despite pouring rain, Tom left Clearpool with a clear direction.

Back at PCFGA, the club started by marking the exclosure lines with bright flagging and then measuring the lengths with a laser rangefinder. All the materials—enough for over 800 feet of fence—fit into Tom’s pick-up truck.

The biggest task was clearing a path to install the fence. Tom and more than a dozen club members used loppers and chainsaws to trim back branches and trees where needed..

“Installing the exclosure took 15 people 4 hours,” Tom says. “We did it in one shot. Pounded the posts, ran the lines, hung the fence, and had to run to Home Depot to get extra zip ties.” Sometimes rocks can get in the way of the posts, but the soil cooperated.

Tom says the project is a tall task without extra hands. “Putting up the fence is really something you need help with.”

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The understory inside PCFGA’s exclosure is dense and healthy (top) while the understory outside the fence is sparse and lacking seedlings (bottom).

But all that work has paid off. The club installed the fence three years ago, and already their storm-damaged woods are bouncing back. “Love the fencing project,” says Tom. “There is something to be said about being able to see the understory. Trees are now in the 10-15 foot range. We also have turkeys and songbirds, but the fence doesn’t keep them out, and there are lots of seeds for them.”

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