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Wisconsin

Wisconsin

Cutting Trees Saves Imperiled Ecosystem, Reduces Fire Danger to Nearby Community

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge - 2003

Necedah Wildlife Refuge in Central Wisconsin is home to a globally imperiled ecosystem known as oak savanna, but lack of a routine, natural fire regime was not only threatening the quality of the habitat, but the neighboring community of Necedah as well.

Necedah, ca 1880

Necedah, ca 1880

When the town was identified as one of many "Communities at Risk" under the National Fire Plan, the refuge began working with the Madison-based Sand County Foundation to restore the unique ecosystem.

In the late 1990s, the refuge began returning the savanna to its natural state. Managers started by embarking on selective-cut timber sales. Pine and oak trees with diameters greater than 14 to 16 inches were marked and left standing.

When the remainder was cut, the brush and overgrown vegetation was burned under prescribed fire conditions, which further reduced the fuel load and encouraged the growth of favored savanna grasses and plants.

After the tree harvest, the foundation jump-started restoration by hiring a vegetation-monitoring crew to establish plots and collect data. Members also put together a panel of fire and habitat restoration experts from across the country to evaluate the restoration program. The group presented the Service with a $10,000 "Alan Haney Award" for excellence in restoration. The money was used to pay for vegetation monitoring.

At the time of the original land surveys in the 1850s, oak savanna covered more than 4.5 million acres of Wisconsin's landscape. Today, less than 5,000 acres of savanna still exists in the state. This type of habitat is characterized by prairie grasses, brushy areas and widely scattered, mature trees and provides important habitat for a variety of rare plants and songbirds.

Before

Before

Following Timber Sale

Following Timber Sale

After Prescribed Burning

After Prescribed Burning

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge's Savanna Restoration Program has not only reduced the threat of wildfire to the town of Necedah, but has increased the amount of Karner blue butterfly habitat on the property from 540 acres to 1,245 acres, which meets one of the recovery goals established in the Service's Karner blue butterfly recovery plan.

Karner blue butterfly

Karner blue butterfly

Red-headed woodpecker populations within the restored oak savannas have skyrocketed and the refuge is now home to Wisconsin's largest red-headed woodpecker population. A recent study shows that the refuge contains more than seventy red-headed woodpecker nests. Bird, mammal, and plant diversity has increased dramatically. Most notably, at least two packs of gray wolves have moved into the area and are denning on the refuge.

Red-headed woodpecker

Red-headed woodpecker

The oak savanna restoration program is expected to provide quality habitat for other rare species, helping preclude the need for federal Endangered Species Act protection, while increasing the safety of surrounding communities.

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