Assessing the Impact of 41 Years of Forest Management on Native Wildlife Habitat in Minnesota, USA

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Over the last four decades, forest management goals have transitioned to multiuse objectives, begging the question of their impact on wildlife habitat. Using USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data and the WHINGS (Wildlife Habitat Indicator for Native Genera and Species) model, the trends in wildlife habitat were quantified from 1977 to 2018 across Minnesota. Statewide, 35.5% of species experienced significant improvement in habitat, 29% significant reductions, and 35.5% nonsignificant change. The extent of habitat (acreage) increased for 100% of species, but the quality declined for 63% of species. Results were explained by the reduction in acreage of larger size classes of the aspen, balsam, and birch forest type and increases in smaller, younger forest area. Specifically, forest management that converted aspen stands to other forest types benefited certain wildlife species over others. Future forest management should consider the balance between the habitat requirements of the diverse native species in Minnesota. Study Implications: Trends in forest wildlife habitat over the last four decades across Minnesota highlight that forest management often favors one species at the expense of another. Statewide, wildlife species with preferences for larger, older aspen experienced diminished habitat, whereas habitat for species preferring younger forest types or older nonaspen types increased. Regionally, the forested ecoregions in Minnesota (northeast) generally saw reduced habitat, whereas the prairie/agricultural regions (south and northwest) saw the largest increases. Through this and further applications, forest and wildlife managers can rapidly assess the habitat implications of proposed management, whether for environmental review, forest planning, or harvest scheduling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-176
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Forestry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 21 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Kristen Page for her considerable efforts in digitizing and consolidating the information associated with the GEIS (Generic Environmental Impact Statement) wildlife model and Lee Frelich for his revisions of the model. Also deserving of thanks are Peter Dieser III for his constructive comments and suggestions regarding earlier versions of Wildlife Habitat Indicator for Native Genera and Species (WHINGS), Rick Kravik for the suggestion of the WHINGS acronym, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions that improved the manuscript. This research was made possible through funding by the Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, the Interagency Information Cooperative, the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, and the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, University of Tennessee.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of American Foresters. All rights reserved.


  • Forest Inventory and Analysis
  • forest management
  • habitat suitability index
  • habitat unit
  • wildlife habitat


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