Riparian and upland afforestation: improving success by excluding deer from small areas with low fencing

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Sweeney, B.W., and C.L. Dow. 2019. Natural Areas Journal 39(1):90–107.


We propose that small patches of land protected by low (1.2-m tall) fence is a viable approach for restoring and/or conserving forests in riparian or upland areas with high white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman) populations. We also propose that this new approach may be advantageous because, unlike tree shelters, fenced areas protect shrubs just as well as trees in afforestation projects. Multi-year field experiments were performed involving deer exclosures where fence height and fenced area were manipulated in upland and lowland pasture and forest settings. Results show that low fencing significantly increased seedling survival and growth relative to unfenced areas when fenced areas were small (i.e., less than or equal to ∼100 m2). Moreover, tall fencing (1.8 or 2.3 m) did not provide significantly greater protection than shorter (1.2-m) fencing when the fenced areas were kept small. We propose that creating small patches of deer-free pasture or forest habitat will greatly support new approaches to afforestation such as applied nucleation. Finally, we show that low-stature fencing may also have application for protecting larger areas (≥0.8 ha) if the fencing is deployed around the perimeter as two low fences erected in parallel and with a small (3-m) space between them. We conclude that low fencing can result in levels of survival and growth of both trees and shrubs suitable to meet the success criteria for afforestation projects funded by the US federal government.