The working forest we hunt is full of wildness and we are drawn to these special places.
We make a big deal about preserving and protecting wilderness areas. Groups, such as the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, work diligently and spend millions to protect these pristine lands. On the other hand, we have far fewer people and organizations interested in protecting working landscapes and the wildness in these “ordinary” places.
These working landscapes — the farms and orchards that grow our food as well as the forests that supply our wood and paper — are just as important and just as worthy of our devotion and protection. The majority of our grouse and woodcock come from these working forests as well.
I believe we need wilderness areas and should work to preserve them. Wendell Berry, in his essay “Preserving Wildness”, wrote we need “places where our work is disallowed, where our hopes and plans have no standing. We need to come into the presence of the unqualified and mysterious formality of Creation.”
We treat wilderness areas with reverence, and a few consider these places holy, while seeing the rest of the land as worldly and not worth protecting. However, we should also be concerned about these lands. Grouse and woodcock hunters, in particular, should be concerned about these lands because it’s here, the working forest, where we tend to hunt.
Wisconsin, the state where I live and hunt, has seven wilderness areas. These seven islands are surrounded by millions of acres of working forest and the occasional farm. The 4400-acre Porcupine Lake Wilderness in the national forest lies 20 miles north of my home, and although it’s open to hunting, I have never walked there with a shotgun.
In between here and there, mostly on county forest land, are untold more productive coverts to hunt grouse and woodcock in the working forest, which is simply better upland habitat because it’s used by humans. The logging done there creates the edge habitat that mammals and birds need to thrive, the human intervention benefiting many species, both flora and fauna.
Because we love the forest, my wife and I are forest dwellers, living in the midst of a working landscape. Our few acres border county forest, so we are keen on seeing it remain a working forest. In the 25 years we have owned our property, the county forest adjacent to us within sight of our house has been logged twice — once for pulpwood and another time for red and white pine saw logs.
Logging and timber sales are this land’s primary functions in the forest economy, which brings not only money to the county but also supports local business and local families. In a radius of three miles, three local businesses rely on local wood — one sawmill, one log cabin contractor and one wood flooring and paneling mill. These provide jobs to people I know, one of them a neighbor who lives across the road from us.
Besides supporting a forest economy, the working forest plays a huge role in the local tourism economy. Snowmobiling, ATVing, mountain biking, cross country skiing and hunting (deer, grouse, woodcock and bear) bring millions of dollars to the local economy by using the working landscape.
Hunting, however, has a more involved symbiosis with the working forest than other recreation, because without logging the habitat would not be as productive for the game species we love to pursue.
Grouse and woodcock hunters know small timber harvests, particularly of aspen, create the cover and food that our favorite upland species need to live and thrive. Mountain bikers, hikers and skiers, for the most part, prefer more mature woods, and it’s no accident that North Country hiking trail winds through the Porcupine Lake wilderness area I wrote about earlier.
Hunters and their associated organizations know logging produces not only wood products, jobs and potentially a thriving local economy, but also creates the habitat for wildlife. There is a clear interdependence, and this is why hunters, in Wisconsin at least, prefer and seek out the working forest over wilderness, at least when hunting.
It is a mistake to see the working landscape as somehow less valuable than wilderness. The working landscape is full of wildness, our grouse and woodcock are full of the wild. In fact, both birds resist domestication and only flourish in the wild.
The places we hunt are full of wildness, featuring little pockets of wilderness, places where humans rarely tread, and as hunters, we are drawn to these special places. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness (not wilderness) is the preservation of the world.” I’m not sure if the wildness of these places will save the world, but as a grouse hunter, they matter to me.
About | The Author
Mark Parman lives and hunts in Seeley, Wis. with his wife, Susan, and two setters, Fergus and Jenkins. He has been an RGS member for over 20 years.