Protect, restore, and improve the highest quality natural communities in Wisconsin.
October 1 - 10
Racine has 11 hours and 18 minutes of daylight and Superior has 11 hours and 11 minutes of daylight at the end of the period. Southern Wisconsin loses 29 minutes of daylight and northern Wisconsin has 33 minutes less than the previous period.
Old-growth forests: Old growth forests are considered a rare habitat in Wisconsin. While there is endless discussion about what exactly constitutes old growth, in general it means that an old growth forest would be late succession and suffered few intrusions by humans. Breaks in the canopy would be caused by falling trees caused by wind or ice, and standing dead trees due to natural death or lightning strikes. Masses of roots turned up when a big tree falls over and the woody debris from the slowly decomposing trees would be common.
To many, old-growth means a forest as you would have found it prior to European colonization or perhaps even before Native Americans began imposing their imprint on it. This definition results in virtually no old growth left at all in the Eastern United States. Wisconsin does have a definition for northern hardwood forest and hemlock. Other forest types, especially for those that do not have many old trees, such as bottomland hardwoods, the definition are less precise. For our purposes, we will be using ages of greater than 150 years as a defintion of old-growth (120 for bottomland hardwoods and spruce areas), 120 to 149 years for old forests (100 -119 for bottomlands and spruce) and 100 – 119 years for forest with the potential to develop old-growth characteristics.
Despite the restrictions in definition, we still have important forest remnants harboring old-growth characteristics with much to teach us. They provide what we have left of the starting point, an ecological reference area against which our era can measure itself. All forest stages have an important ecological role to play. The old-growth stage is especially important because of its unique structure. For improving water quality and air quality there is nothing better than an old-growth forest.
People value forests for numerous reasons. They rely on forests for their livelihoods, recreation, spiritual renewal, a vast array of forest products, and other essential functions. These values may be found in old-growth forests, as well. To ensure that our children and grandchildren are able to experience the same forest-based values that we enjoy today, it is imperative that we work together to sustain old-growth forests as a part of balanced forest management system.
Our local understanding of old-growth forest attributes and characteristics has greatly increased with recent research. Old-growth and old forests have unique assembles of species, including many species of invertebrates and lichens not found in managed stands. Especially important are large woody debris, large standing snags, large crowns and branches, furrowed and loose bark, and microclimatic effects. Several species of forest herbs similarly attain their highest densities in old-growth situations. For some species, like American marten, availability of old forest components may be critical for survival, because they are rarely found in stands without abundant debris.
In the Upper Midwest, there are some 350 species of terrestrial vertebrates as well as thousands of species of invertebrates. Each one of these species has particular habitat needs. The conservation of plants and animals that live in forests require maintaining a representation of all the various compositional and structural elements of forests including open barrens, large clearcuts, mature forests, and old-growth forests. Currently, both open barrens and old-growth forests are rare and in need of conservation.
Forests provide ecosystem services that have direct economic values as a source of materials, food, and medicines. Old forests may provide different types and amounts of services and supplies. For example, managing for older forests may slightly reduce total timber volume yields, but could increase value added yields of large sawtimber and veneer.
Every year, more people seek the solitude an old-growth forest can provide. Local businesses including lodging, food, and automotive services can directly benefit when these users visit the old-growth forest. Wisconsin nature-based tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry that is growing nearly every year. Furthermore, nationwide, the nature-based tourism industry is diversifying and increasingly includes those seeking old-growth forests. Nature reserves, including old-growth, combined with the forest products industry tend to diversify and stabilize local northern economies. Spin-off businesses like guide services can add to the local tax base. Sales of site guides, maps and gear can add to the local economy. Researchers and education groups should increase their use of these areas. While working or learning at natural sites, these groups may use similar services as those who recreate there.
Old-growth forests provide inspirational, aesthetic and philosophical values to humans and have helped shape our history and culture. Some people feel a connection to them, believing they are a significant natural feature and a key part of Wisconsin’s heritage. Prominent authors, such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Henry David Thoreau illustrated their appreciation for old-growth forests in a number of popular books and inspired many others through their writing. In a 1942 essay to conserve the Porcupine Mountains (MI) Aldo Leopold writes "There will be an end to the best schoolroom for foresters to learn what remains to be learned about hardwood forestry. We know little, and we understand only part of what we know". People from diverse cultures and religions hold old-growth forest sacred. For ethical reasons, some people inherently consider old-growth forest worthy of preservation.
Role in Forest Management
Ecological reference areas (ERA) are places on the landscape managed primarily for their ecological values. Management considerations for production of forest products, wildlife habitat for game species, recreational activities, and other natural resource objectives are secondary, though some may be compatible with ERA management. ERAs provide a framework for improving our understanding of ecological systems and changes occurring within them, as well as for evaluating the consequences of management actions and the impacts, past and present, of humans on the landscape. They can also provide an historical ecological context to bridge the past with the present. ERAs for some natural community types are generally older, later developmental stages still subjected to some of the natural processes with which they developed and requiring little or no active management. Other types require active management that reintroduces or mimics a natural process now absent from the landscape.
Various inventories indicate between 45,000 and 60,000 acres of old-growth forest may occur in Wisconsin. This data is suspect because some federal inventories indicate at most 13,300 acres of old-growth white cedar could occurs in the state, whereas documented site data from state sources, we know for certainty 16,500 acres of never cut white cedar occurs in the state. An inverse pattern holds for other types especially those valuable commercially. Federal inventories indicate 8 to 10,000 acres of old-growth white pine occurs in the state, whereas confirmed uncut old-growth white pine from natural history records indicates only 1044 acres remains.
Randomly placed inventory plots can sometimes miss larger blocks of very old forest. In addition, recon data for age of trees is many times estimated leading to wild guesses as to which trees over 15” diameters are really old. Ecological reference areas utilize these data sets to help with determining old-growth acres, but site specific land use history information gives a better picture of the known acres of old-growth in the state. Some areas are not covered by traditional inventory methods, such as cliffs faces harbor trees that have never been cut. Locations in the state harboring quantifiable old-growth forest cover 30,880 acres of which 5781(18.75%) acres are considered commercially value species. This documented old-growth forest represents approximately 0.18% of the forest land in the state.
Table 1. Documentated Acres of Old-Growth Forest in Wisconsin
The same data indicates approximately 160,000 acres of old forest meets the definition and nearly 290,000 acres that could be develop into old-growth, however most of the acres are ephemeral with the old trees cut while younger ones may age.
Early October is a great time to explore old-growth forests. Virtually no bugs and the ethereal old-growth forest qualities are very much present. To find good locations, visit either the Chequamegon-Nicolet website or the Wisconsin State Natural Areas website.
Migrating waterfowl and sparrows: Since most of the bug eaters have left the state, bird diversity is highlighted by water birds and seed eaters. Early October ushers in the greatest movement of waterfowl. Most duck and goose species are present, although peak numbers occur a bit later. Surprisingly, many shorebird species are still around in good number with peaks in migrant numbers recorded for Wilson’s Snipe and American Woodcock. Juncos usually arrive in the south and Eastern Bluebirds can cover the fences in farm country.
Bat hibernation: Several concentrate bat hibernation locations seem hopelessly doomed to having no bats in the near future. In normal years, bat are congregating at these hibernation locations and venturing out when there’s enough night time warmth for bugs to fly. After very cold nights reduce the flying insects to near zero, the bats enter hibernation mode, not flying out until next spring. With white-nose syndrome gaining a foothold in the state, our bats numbers will obviously decline dramatically. The cascading effects on the ecosystem are as yet unknown.
Tough little butterflies: Naturalist venturing into the fields and forests in early October, after a frosty morning, can find little butterflies still flitting around. Foremost among these hardy little critters are the eastern tailed blue and the American copper. Both these species have multiple broods each year and will remain active until hard frosts ceases most insect activity. The American copper feeds on sorrel and the eastern tailed blue feeds on clover species.
Wild onion and wild leek pods are easy to find in the browning vegetation. The seeds are like hard little marbles.
Several milkweed species set their seeds onto the wind. Pods burst and the seeds along with their attached parachutes float on warm October breezes.
Listen for the bugle of elk in the Calm Lake area and the Black River State Forest in Jackson County.
Black walnuts crash to the ground.
The arge moth has been seen on Wisconsin deserts with prickly pear cactus in early October – making it one of the latest flying autumnal moth species.
Check out the obvious galls on goldenrod stemes for gall insects.
Lady bird beetles can congregate in huge numbers in preparation for winter. They gather in numbers depending on the species to find adequate spots – such as leaf piles, under downed wood, and yes inside homes.
Some flowering plants are still going strong. Indian tobacco and several Bidens species can flower in profusion well into October.
Shaggy mane mushrooms can be found in abundance on short-grass. Parks and pastures can have the strange mushrooms covering large areas.
Several species of coral fungi can be obvious on hikes through northern forest in October.
WI State Natural Areas
Board of Commissioners