Closed-canopy upland hardwood stands often lack diverse understory structure and composition, limiting available nutrition for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) as well as nesting and foraging structure for other wildlife. Various regeneration methods can positively influence understory development; however, non-commercial strategies are needed to improve available nutrition in many stands, as some contain timber that is not ready to harvest and others are owned by landowners who are not interested in harvesting timber. Applications of herbicide and prescribed fire have improved availability of food and cover for deer and other wildlife in pine (Pinus spp.) systems. However, this strategy has not been evaluated in hardwood systems. To evaluate the influence of fire and herbicide treatments on available deer forage in upland hardwood systems, we measured forage availability and calculated nutritional carrying capacity (NCC) at 14% crude protein mixed diet, following 7 silvicultural treatments, including controls, in 4 mixed upland hardwood stands July–September 2007 and 2008. We compared NCC among forest treatments and within 4 paired warm-season forage food plots to evaluate the usefulness of food plots in areas where forests are managed. Nutritional carrying capacity estimates (deer days/ha) were greatest following canopy reduction with prescribed fire treatments in both years. Understory herbicide application did not affect species composition or NCC 1 year or 2 years post-treatment. Production of forage plantings exceeded that of forest treatments both years with the exception of early-maturing soybeans and retention cut with fire 2 years post-treatment. We encourage land managers to use canopy reducing treatments and low-intensity pre-scribed fire to increase available nutrition and improve available cover where needed in upland hardwood systems. In areas where deer density may limit understory development, high-quality forage food plots may be used to buffer browsing while strategies to reduce deer density and stimulate the forest understory are implemented.
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