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Sustaining Forests

Restoring Barrens and Northern Dry Forests in Northeastern Wisconsin

Research Issue

Field staff taking reference plot measurements in a State natural area.Fire suppression combined with succession has drastically reduced open barren and savannah systems in northern Wisconsin.  These fire-prone systems are now rare and exist primarily as remnant patches.  In 2014, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) began a landscape-scale effort to restore Pine Barrens and Northern Dry Forest ecosystem attributes (37,000 acres).  The desired future condition is a landscape with a gradient of open conditions to pine/oak forest types that will be achieved by increasing fire disturbance, decreasing fuel loading/fire risk, lowering forest stocking/tree density, and altering stand age structure with establishment of new age cohorts. USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station scientists partnered with the CNNF to investigate the process of restoration as it affects vegetation, pollinators, fuels, and fire risk within fire-dependent ecosystems.

Our Research

Applying these treatments across a large landscape for restoration purposes presented an opportunity for cross-discipline and management-research collaboration to determine the effects and relative success of these treatments. Research is focusing on consequences of restoration for fire risk, in particular changes in pine canopy openness and fuel loads on the ability of forests to carry high-intensity fire, vegetation changes (understory diversity shift to open-canopy and fire-adapted species), and wildlife diversity, specifically bird and butterfly assemblage shifts. In addition, research is investigating landowner and visitor response to this large-scale restoration project that is shifting closed-canopy to open-canopy conditions.

Expected Outcomes

A knowledge gap exists when it comes to the restoration of pine barrens in Wisconsin. While historical landscape conditions have been described for barrens in Wisconsin, current vegetation and restoration approaches are not well-defined for barren communities of northeastern Wisconsin. Our study will describe the fuel loads and vegetation patterns on the landscape prior to restoration activities and after management activities to evaluate a suite of restoration approaches across a landscape. This information will give land managers timely information on the effectiveness of restoration techniques, including prescribed fire treatments, recommended fuel loads for prescribed fire, and recommended tree density and age structure for forests.

Research Products

Sturtevant, B., C. Kern, and D. Donner. 2016.  Restoration of fire-dependent pine barren ecosystems in northern Wisconsin – Bridging the gap between research and management practices. (webinar) Lake States Fire Consortium, November 17, 2016.

Donner, D., B. Sturtevant, C. Kern. 2015. Response of insectivore pollinators, plants diversity, and fuel loads to a large-scale barren and northern dry forest restoration project in northeastern Wisconsin. (webinar) Lake States Fire Consortium, November 19, 2015.

Sturtevant, B., D. Donner, C. Kern. 2014. Restoring barrens and Northern Dry forests in northeastern Wisconsin. (webinar). Lake States Fire Consortium, December 18, 2014.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Deahn M. Donner, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station - Landscape Ecologist
  • Brian Sturtevant, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station- Research Ecologist
  • Christel Kern, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station- Research Forester and Silviculturist

Research Partners

Last Modified: December 2, 2016