Western Great Lakes: Project Details
Falcon Springs Wildlife Area Land Acquisition
RGS is continuing to support public land acquisitions in Iowa. Iowa is commonly ranked towards the bottom of all states in terms of acres of public land open to hunting. Today, excluding public roads, only 2% (or about 750,000 acres) of Iowa is under public ownership. Even fewer acres (about 380,000 of that 750,000 acres) are under Iowa Department of Natural Resources management that has specific objectives of managing for things like wildlife and timber. In 2019, RGS members decided to do something about it by raising $5,000 in match to acquire a 120 acre property adjacent to Falcon Springs Wildlife Area. In total, 10 partnering groups and non-profit organizations helped raise a combined $215,750.00 that will be combined with Iowa DNR Pittman and Robertson dollars to purchase the property and help move the needle on public hunting opportunities in Iowa. With additional land acquisitions planned for 2020 and beyond, this land acquisition was the start we need as hunters/conservationists to accomplish the RGS/AWS goal to unite hunters and give them a unified voice to improve hunting and wildlife habitat where you live.
Tiffany Wildlife Area Habitat Project
In 2019, RGS/AWS Forest Conservation Director Jon Steigerwaldt sat on the selection committee for the Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund (a habitat fund made possible by Wisconsin hunters who volunteer to donate to an endowment while purchasing hunting licenses). That committee looked at funding one of ten different projects throughout Wisconsin and eventually agreed to fund a 278 acre project on the Lawrence Creek Fish and Wildlife Area using the public endowment. However, the second-place project the committee agreed was a high value project wasn’t going to get funded due to a lack of available funds. Working with chapter members to rally and gauge support, RGS funded the second-place project on the Tiffany Wildlife Area in 2019. That 194 acre project aimed to create woodcock habitat by maintaining open vegetation for singing grounds, as well as combat a growing woody invasive problem and manage oak woodlands nearby. “Building on the hundreds of acres of oak-hardwood salvage from a recent blowdown event on the Tiffany, this project was a no-brainer to augment existing habitat and capitalize on additive benefits from that blow-down timber harvests to have a property-wide impact on the 5,000 acre property.” – said Forest Conservation Director Jon Steigerwaldt. “This property will be a real woodcock hotspot in the near future, but with only one project slated to get funded through the Cherish Fund, it highlights the desperate support wildlife managers and habitat organizations have to make meaningful impacts.”
Update: Since initiating this project on the Tiffany, the Miss-Croix RGS chapter across the Mississippi River in MN has adopted the WI Wildlife Management Area in 2020. Delayed from doing a project in 2020 due to COVID19, the chapter was safely able to meet on site with Regional Director of Development Dave Johnson in the spring of 2021 to conduct habitat maintenance work.
Carlin-Weld Habitat Improvement Project
Thanks to a donation from a passionate RGS/AWS supporting foundation, the Jefferson County Parks and Forestry Dept. received a $1,000 project contribution for habitat restoration at Carlin-Weld County Park in Jefferson County, WI. Carlin-Weld is an 80-acre public park and wildlife area just west of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. This project was funded in late 2019 and wrapped the spring of 2021 with positive results.
The restoration project took place on 2 separate areas, totaling ~4 acres. These areas were heavily infested with buckthorn, honeysuckle, and autumn olive as well as a variety of other invasive herbaceous species. These species were all hand-cleared, herbicide treated, and removed from the restoration area. While the treatment area seems small, treating the invasive infested area will help protect multiple other acres on and off the forestry dept. lands from the spread of the source invasives.
After invasive species removal, a suitable seed mix of native grasses, forbs, sedges, and bare-root hazelnut were planted to help jumpstart the transformation of these areas into high-quality wildlife habitat. Watching this area transition into high-quality wildlife habitat over the years will continue to serve as a reminder of the positive impact of this generous donation.
Ashland Co. Ruffed Grouse Management Area
In 2019, RGS began a partnership with the Board of Commissioner of Public Lands (BCPL). BCPL manages 77,000 acres of school trust lands across northern WI. Because of their unique nature, being managed in trust to benefit public education, these lands largely get ignored from a wildlife habitat perspective and public funding perspective. Working with BCPL Foresters, a 10-year backlog of forest inventory was identified across the ownership. Simply put, without forest inventory, forest management doesn’t happen. Looking beyond the small dot on the map habitat projects that don’t lend well to landscape level impacts, RGS/AWS decided to do something about this backlog that was hindering forest management and timber harvesting. In the summer of 2019, RGS funded 2 part-time foresters that made a 6,000 acre dent in the backlog of inventory work. One of those foresters, Kevin Bolder, is a now graduate of the Wildlife Management program at UW-Stevens Point and an active RGS chapter member who can commonly be seen volunteering at both the Stevens Point and Tomahawk Banquets. Part of Kevin’s internship assignment was planning a Ruffed Grouse Management Area on BCPL lands in Ashland Co and help to fold this 77,000 acre public land manager into wildlife habitat management, growing a landscape level impact. More about BCPL can be found at: https://bcpl.wisconsin.gov/Pages/Home.aspx The included map designates the cutting strategy on the 200 acre BCPL Ruffed Grouse Management Area in Ashland Co WI with timber harvesting starting this year.
The C.D. Buzz Besadny Fish and Wildlife Area Grouse and Woodcock Habitat Improvement Project
Silver Creek Hunter Walking Trail – Ashland Co
In 2019, RGS/AWS partnered with the Ashland Co Forestry and recreation Dept to rehabilitate the Silver Creek Hunter Walking Trail system. This included mowing/brushing 2 acres of wildlife openings and 2.5 miles of trails that became overgrown with trees on this walk-in only trail. After brushing was completed, openings and trails were planted to a mix of winter rye, clover, chicory, and brassicas. Labor and equipment for this project was donated by the Ashland Co Forestry and Recreation Dept.
McMillan Wildlife Area Alder Regeneration
Funded by RGS in mid-2019, but facing setbacks due to COVID19 restrictions, this sheering project at the McMillan Wildlife Area was completed in early 2021. In total, 5 acres of large, overly-mature alder was sheared by a contractor at the end of Marsh Road. Coming in under budget, plans are in place to use remaining funds to accomplish more acres in the winter of 2021-2022.
This area is heavily used by hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts. It is directly next to a heavily used parking lot and adjacent to a hiking/biking trail. As it regenerates and responds to the treatment, it will provide excellent habitat for woodcock, grouse and other young forest dependent wildlife species for many years to come. Due to this project’s proximity to heavily trafficked portions of the property, DNR/RGS/AWS intend to develop educational materials to be placed on site in the summer of 2021, describing the habitat treatment, benefits to wildlife, and partnership between RGS/AWS and DNR.
The McMillan Marsh Wildlife Area is approximately 6,500 acres of heavily hunted public land with a wide array of habitat types. McMillan Marsh is located directly north of Marshfield, in central Wisconsin. WI DNR has a cooperative agreement with the Marathon County Parks Department for mowing/brushing walking and hunter access trails on McMillan Marsh. In addition, several woodcock surveys in the past several years have been conducted with the assistance of volunteers.
Mead Wildlife Area Alder Regeneration
Funded in late 2019, this project is the sister project to RGS/AWS/DNR’s 2019 McMillan Wildlife Areas project. In the Spring of 2021, a total of 11 acres of large, overly mature alder was sheared by a contractor off of Rangeline Road to provide excellent habitat for woodcock, grouse and other young forest dependent wildlife for many years to come. Due to the ease of accessibility off the road and location to multiple communities, this area is also a popular spot used by many types of hunters.
The Mead Wildlife Area is approximately 32,000 acres of heavily hunted public land with a wide array of habitat types, located in three counties in central Wisconsin. Grouse and woodcock are a highly sought-after game species on the property. Mead staff are currently conducting a property wide recon of all non-forested (non-timber) lands. Property recon will be loaded into the Wisconsin Forest Inventory and Reporting System (WisFIRS), the same system used by the Forestry Division to track forest management and timber sales. WisFIRS will better allow staff to plan and track alder management on the Mead Wildlife Area into the future and better schedule regular habitat management treatments like those RGS/AWS helped complete.
UPM Blandin Hunter Walking Trail
Grand Rapids, MN (Oct. 2020) – Thanks to a $5,000 investment from the MN State Drummer Fund to seed the project, the Snaptail Hunter Walking Trail Area is now open to non-motorized use thanks to a partnership between the Ruffed Grouse Society and UPM Blandin. In addition to the hunter walking trail area, which is 30 minutes north of Grand Rapids, Blandin has committed to creating more ruffed grouse habitat by managing a mature aspen stand surrounding the trails. In addition to furnishing time, labor, and materials on the project, Blandin will be sponsoring the local chapter with a $1000 gift to put towards member involvement on the Hunter Walking Trail Area.
UPM Blandin worked with Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) Forest Conservation Director Jon Steigerwaldt on management recommendations and input that guided the project design. The Snaptail Hunter Walking Trail Area is within a 600 acre project boundary of varied forest types and Blandin has committed to harvesting 350 acres of mature aspen within that project boundary during a 20 year period.
Minnesota ruffed grouse hunters often harvest more grouse than any other state, in large part, due to the abundance of aspen which is a key food source for the popular game bird. RGS worked with Blandin to plan the creation of six distinct age classes of aspen. Diversifying the age structure of trees like this helps create ideal grouse habitat.
Blandin is committed to the active management of the area for grouse habitat. Adam Sutherland, UPM Blandin forester, said “I’m eager to work with and engage the local chapters in habitat projects on the site as well as mowing of the trails. This can be a place for the local chapter to really take ownership and create something special with our full support.”
“Diversifying the partners we work with helps RGS be part of a broader forest conservation world and discussion. Partnering on industrial forest lands open to the public, like those owned by Blandin, helps RGS create new opportunity for member involvement and provides an alternative to fighting through the red tape of working with government agencies. We’ve founded this project and have secured future funding to keep it going. Now is not just the time for boots on the ground enjoy it out hunting, but to work with UPM Blandin foresters Adam Sutherland, Sawyer Scherer, and Greg Duwe to cultivate member involvement.” said Jon SteigerwaldtIn addition to the habitat creation and management, Blandin has constructed a gravel parking area with an informational/educational sign to greet those entering the gated trails. The Snaptail Hunter Walking Trail is located 30 minutes north of Grand Rapids, southwest of Snaptail Lake, near the intersection of County Rd. 50 and County Rd. 343.
Most of the Blandin land holdings are open to public hunting through a Conservation Easement. UPM Blandin helps create young forest wildlife habitat in the heart of the upper Great Lakes grouse range.
Sawyer Co Private Lands Alder Aspen Project
Beginning in 2018, Wisconsin Forest Wildlife Specialist Jared Elm began working with Jason Stewart who had heard of some potential project opportunities available through the Federal Farm Bill. Jason owns 40 acres in Sawyer County that was purchased by his grandfather in the 1960s. This property hadn’t been under any active management since originally purchasing.
Jason applied to the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, a Federal Farm Bill program administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to first have a Forest Management Plan prepared by a consulting forester. After completion of the plan, Jason applied again to have 10 acres of upland tag alder sheared in preparation for a timer harvest of the overmature aspen present on the property. The shearing was completed in the winter of 2020. While tag alder does provide young forest habitat, this site is capable of growing aspen and pushing the site towards aspen forest versus upland brush ensures long-term commercial viability and the ability to actively manage with commercial timber sale instead of non-commercial shearing.
Following the shearing, Jason was able to find an interested logger to harvest the aspen and hardwood pulp. The harvest was completed in the fall of 2021, with about 300 cords of aspen harvested. This is a small sale for northern Wisconsin, but proximity to Louisiana-Pacific Corporation’s plant in Hayward, WI and easy access in addition to flexible operating conditions were just enough to get the work done. On private land, being flexible and being in the right place at the right time is essential. The preparatory work completed with Farm Bill funding also increased the likelihood of a successful timber sale.
In the future, Jason plans on planting pockets of white spruce and white pine to increase thermal cover in areas with less aspen regeneration. The project played out over a nearly 4-year time frame, which isn’t uncommon even on smaller land bases. The importance of having a quality Forest Management Plan and some patience is essential in moving the needle towards the direct of healthy forests and abundance wildlife. Having partners like the Natural Resource Conservation Service that provide financial and technical assistance as well as partnership opportunities with the Ruffed Grouse Society is critical in assisting private landowners in an ever-changing management environment.
Hunter Walking Trail – Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) Grant
On December 6th, 2021, RGS & AWS President Ben Jones signed a $300,000 Hunter Walking Trail grant that was recommended by the LCCMR for Environment and Natural Resources Trust fund (ENRTF) funding, approved through MN legislative action and Governor’s signature in June 2021. Funded through June 2024, this LCCMR grant proposes to: (1) restore/enhance 200 trail heads and 80 miles of existing trails, (2) add about 20 miles of new trails, and (3) update trail maps for land managers and users. A resource assessment of all public land hunter walking trails (~1,000 miles) is also being undertaking to more fully understand the current status and needs of these trails, and to drive priority sites for this grant. Hunter walking trails are a great way for you to access different public lands, often through WMAs or Ruffed Grouse Management Areas (RGMA).
As this project just recently began, check back in for grant updates!
Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) – Moose Habitat Collaborative Phase IV
In 2020, RGS/AWS joined the MN Moose Habitat Collaborative and together with a wide range of partners, put together a landscape level habitat project on the north shore that aims to restore over 30,000 acres of critical forest habitats. This includes habitat for ruffed grouse, American Woodcock, and moose, among other species. In October of 2021, RGS & AWS President Ben Jones officially signed the grant that was funded at $1,809,000 in Outdoor Heritage Funding (OHF) by the LSOHC, and approved through MN legislative action and Governor’s signature in June 2021. This grant ends in June 2024. Though work has just begun, a total of 2,061 treatment acres (1,698 browse protection, 363 conifer release) were accomplished by the end of 2021 through a contract with Moose Habitat Collaborative partner, The Nature Conservancy.
As this project just recently began, check back in for grant updates!
2022 Chippewa National Forest Stewardship - Deer River
Deer River Minnesota- On July 5, 2022 RGS/AWS signed a Shared Stewardship project agreement with the Deer River Ranger District of the Chippewa National Forest. Under this agreement, RGS/AWS will implement an aspen timber sale, install hunter walking trail gates, maintain a waterfowl impoundment dike and maintain and enhance wildlife openings.
Much of this Stewardship Agreement work will be completed at the Johnson Lake Hunter Walking trail area south of Deer River. On September 1, 2022 RGS/AWS awarded the 78 acre “Johnson Lake” Timber Sale to SAPPI North America for use in their Cloquet MN pulp and paper mill. This timber sale is an aspen regeneration and habitat treatment which will grow new aspen sprouts in patches scattered throughout the hunter walking trail area, as well as provide revenue from the harvested timber.
The unique feature of Stewardship Agreements is their ability to use timber revenue to complete additional forest health and habitat improvements. Plans for 2023 include mowing and prescribed burning, followed by seeding native pollinator plants to maintain and enhance wildlife openings and install gates at the Johnson Lake Hunter Walking Trail network. Planning for additional forest health and forest wildlife habitat projects to potentially include timber harvest preparations and tree planting through this Agreement are also underway.
2020 Chippewa National Forest Shared Stewardship Agreement - Black Duck
January 4th, 2022; Cass Lake Minnesota – Timber harvesting is underway on RGS/AWS’s first National Forest Shared Stewardship project. This is the same project we highlighted in our Winter 2021 issue of Covers Magazine. In that article, we highlighted how Shared Stewardship projects are an integral part of RGS/AWS’s Model of Working Forests as timber revenue from this sale is being reinvested into additional work on the forest and impacts are being compounded.
To date, 97 miles of hunter walking trails have been improved and 10 new gates have been installed on 10 different hunter walking trails, impacting multiple ranger districts of the Chippewa National Forest through our stewardship activities. Holding true to the shared nature of these stewardship activities, RGS/AWS has hired multiple local contractors, took full advantage of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between RGS/AWS and the American Bird Conservancy, and continued partnership with Forest Service staff to complete this work.
Greg Cook Logging Inc. of Bigfork, MN first moved harvesting equipment onto the timber sale area on January 2nd. With the first loads of wood planned to be trucked out the week of January 10th, the 83 acre sale is on track to be completed this winter. The primarily aspen/hardwood timber sale will eventually support jobs at Norboard, Sappi, and Savanna Pallets with the raw materials required for manufacturing, and the wildlife habitat created through these efforts will support hunting and recreational opportunities for years to come.