Old growth forests are important for many reasons, but they are becoming fewer and smaller. Old growth forests contain genetic pools of trees that are disease resistant and hearty. Bird and animal species, too, depend on old growth forests. Biological diversity of songbirds and birds of prey, as well as many mammals, are protected by these forests. Old growth forests are defined as those containing stands of trees older than a 125-year average age.
In the early 1800s, settlers in the Upper Great Lakes region cut and burned forests, using trees as raw materials and seeing forests as barriers to expansion. At that time up to three-quarters of the region was old-growth forest. Less than 1% of the original old growth forests once in Wisconsin remain today.
The Old Growth Forest Initiative of the Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT) looks to conserve those forests. NWLT assists both private land owners and government agencies to protect old growth forests that are existing and to manage some forest to become old growth forests in the future.
According to a recent press release, the State of Wisconsin Board of Commissioner of Public Lands (BCPL) has been selling or trading some publicly owned tracts of land in an effort to consolidate land holdings. Some of those land tracts have been identified as old-growth sites, or containing those sites.
The NWLT, in 2019, acquired the Sack Lake Hemlocks-Old Growth Forest in Iron County’s Town of Knight from the BCPL. This acquisition and exchange allowed the BCPL to acquire a tract of land adjacent to other BCPL holdings as well as one that is more suitable to be managed for timber production. The BCPL, which was the original agency charged with managing Wisconsin’s trust assets, owned the Sack Lake Hemlocks property since January of 1872. The lands were granted to the BCPL in a Federal Swamp Lane Patent. The land was lightly logged in the early 1950s, but many old trees were left standing. Since then, the property has been largely left alone. The land includes easter hemlock, sugar maple and yellow birch.
Over 100 American marten have been documented in the area surrounding the Sack Lake property by Zach Wilson of the Iron County Conservation Department. This makes the area vital for the presence of the American marten in Iron County. According to Wilson, the area is also important for other rare species such as the Canada jay, the black throated blue warbler and wood turtles.
“The Board of Directors of the Northwoods Land Trust is grateful for the cooperation of the BCPL and for the support of project partners and funders, allowing NWLT to acquire this beautiful forest and wile lakeshore,” NWTL’s executive director Ted Anchor said. Anchor said it is especially important the Sack Lake property is adjacent to a 215-acre privately owned conservation easement, effectively offering protection to the entire Sack Lake shoreline.
Grant support for the permanent conservation of the Sack Lake Hemlocks Old Growth Forest was provided by the Caerus Foundation, Inc., John C. Bock Foundation, Medestus Bauer Foundation, American Natural Heritage Foundation, Arthur L. And Elaine V. Johnson Foundation, James D. And Jane P. Watermolen Foundation, and Cellcom Green Gifts Program.
The Northwoods Land Trust protects over 13,600 acres of land and 72 miles of natural lake and river shoreline. This includes 18 properties managed by NWLT and are open to the public. More information about NWLT and its permanently protected lands, see the website www.northwoodslandtrust.org, or call 715-479-2490.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].