It’s been a wild ride the last few days in Minnesota. Temperatures have been reaching the 60s in the Twin Cities, and new high temperature records are being recorded throughout the state. We even had thunderstorms roll through! Sap is flowing far earlier than normal, and wildlife are being thrown for a loop. With this early ‘practice’ spring, what can you expect in your woods? I put the question out to the Forestry and Wildlife teams here at UMN Extension and learned a lot.
Early Budding and Sap Production
According to Extension Educator Gary Wyatt, if trees and plants start to bud and there is a long cold period after budding, the buds could freeze and die. However, landowners shouldn’t be too worried; the tree or plant could re-bud on the areas of the limb that were not damaged by the cold (usually further back from the tip of the branch). “Trees and shrubs are very prolific in producing other buds in other parts of the trees and branches.”
Extension Educator Angela Gupta expanded on this, explaining that the first trees to grow flower buds are often the willows and silver maples. “If these flower buds get frozen later then the trees may not flower, which can impact seed and nut production.” For most folks there’s no tragedy in losing silver maple or willow samara (the seeds), but as was clear with last year’s late spring freeze (remember the great acorn bust?), if nuts and fruit such as apples become impacted it can be a bigger deal. Keep in mind, though, that those fruit and nut trees are generally later to bloom and likely haven’t started developing buds yet.
Another anomaly: sap is running and has been for a few weeks. This could be throwing maple sugar production off-kilter, and if people aren’t ready to harvest they can miss it. Luckily it sounds like many in southern Minnesota are keeping up with the change and have already begun tapping their trees. With another run of cold weather there is potential for a second run of sap!
Wildlife Living the High Life
Warmer temperatures and reduced snow pack indicate good overwinter survival for mammals. According to Angie Gupta, this could mean high birth rates this spring which can lead to greater forest herbivory, and more dead or significantly browsed trees and forest plants.
Extension Wildlife Specialist John Loegering confirmed that local wildlife are doing well. “The residents love the easy life afforded by an early spring. They are not thermally stressed. But, there is still nothing but lousy food,” he said. Extension Forestry Specialist Matt Russell mentions that deer may be more spread out across the landscape this winter. “In severe winters, deer will typically migrate to wintering areas with dense forest cover. But with such a mild winter so far, deer are being seen across more areas across the state.” With slim pickings for forage and a more robust deer population, does that mean that seedlings are sure to be snatched up? If this weekend’s snow doesn’t cover seedlings that you’re trying to save, a great way to reduce deer browse is through bud-capping. Watch this short video by Cloquet Forestry Center forester Kyle Gill on bud capping and managing for deer.
Extension Forestry Specialist Charlie Blinn pointed out that there are some other wildlife issues to consider with an early spring. “Migratory birds who come here or stop by here may find less food to eat because they didn’t get the memo that the stuff they eat came early this year.” Resources that migratory birds need may already be gone.
A warmer winter also means challenges for logging operations. Without a hard frost, loggers can find it difficult to bring equipment in to harvest. Matt Russell also notes spring load restrictions began yesterday throughout central Minnesota, which makes planning timber harvests and moving wood a challenge. This is the earliest start to spring load restrictions since 2002. With the 30-year average start date for central Minnesota being March 12, this is a significant departure from historical norms.
Increased Fire Risk?
Fire risk is still relatively low to moderate across Minnesota due to abundant rainfall last fall and high soil moisture across the state. But with the snowpack mostly melted, burning restrictions are now in place in central and southern Minnesota. Landowners in these areas of the state must apply for a permit to burn.
There’s a lot to think about as a landowner when it comes to unusual weather! Be sure to contact your local Extension educator or any of the fine folks here at Extension Forestry team if you have questions about this or other woodland topics.