Moquah Barrens, Northern Wisconsin
Restoring Wildlife and Pollinator Habitat
BY TED KOEHLER, ASHLAND FWCO
Ashland, Wisconsin. Credit: Ted Koehler, USFWS
Regionally, nationally and globally, open habitat know as pine barrens are one of the most threatened habitat types, decreasing at a faster rate than almost all open natural landscapes. The wildlife that depend on these landscapes are heavily impacted by this trend. In order to combat this habitat loss the U.S Forest Service’s (USFS) Washburn Ranger District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Midwest Region Coastal Program worked on shared goals at a regional landscape scale to complete the largest upland acreage enhancement and restoration project in the history of the USFWS’s Midwest Region Coastal Program. The work took place in the Moquah Barrens on USFS land in northern Wisconsin. Located on the Bayfield Peninsula near the shores of Lake Superior, the Moquah Barrens are an important migratory stopover site for species navigating across or around the lake.
Migratory species such as monarch butterflies, upland sandpipers and eastern meadowlarks are some of the most heavily impacted when grasslands are in decline, and all are found within the project area. Monarchs were the main driver in the USFWS involvement because their populations have declined significantly in recent years, and thus the USFWS is currently conducting a status assessment to determine whether Endangered Species Act listing is warranted. Efforts such as this project and others throughout the monarch’s range will hopefully be able to turn the tide enough to avoid listing. Game birds on the Moquah Barrens such as sharptail grouse have also been negatively impacted, and are a priority restoration species for the USFS at this site. The USFS is currently working with many different agencies to supplement sharptail grouse populations within the project site by transplanting wild birds from Minnesota. The habitat enhancement and restoration through the Coastal Program funded project will benefit each agencies priorities.
benefitted by the habitat project. Credit: Ted Koehler, USFWS
benefit from restoration actions on the Moquah Barrens.
Credit: Ted Koehler, USFWS
Specifically, within the 15,000 acre Moquah Barrens landscape the USFWS Coastal Program worked with the USFS to enhance over 2000 acres of pollinator and migratory bird habitat. This was achieved through native seed collection and planting operations. The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa provided staff assistance in these efforts by helping with native seed collection. The Moquah Barrens are part of the 1842 Treaty Ceded Territory and ancestral home to the Ojibwe people. Planning efforts also took place to explore the possibility to provide a better link to the Moquah Barrens with neighboring open farmlands to the west. The USFWS’s Iron River National Fish Hatchery lies between the barrens and the farmland, so the USFS and the hatchery may potentially restore barrens habitat on about 280 acres of hatchery land. Doing so would provide a better migratory corridor to enhance monarch and sharptail movement between the open farmlands and the Moquah Barrens landscape. Feasibility of this work is ongoing and barrens habitat restoration may happen on hatchery land in the future.
As part of the overall project we also worked together to restore ten acres of native grassland and pollinator habitat at the USFS owned Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center located near Ashland, Wisconsin. USFWS Coastal Program staff provided assistance with site preparation and planting, and to make the site more attractive for monarch butterflies provided additional common milkweed seed, which is the monarch caterpillar’s sole food source. The Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center averages over 100,000 visitors each year and activities associated with the restoration area will educate many people about the benefits of native plantings and ways to incorporate plant species which help monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
The social benefits of this project are many. It has improved habitat for highly valued game and non-game species important to the partners and the public they serve. Huntable species such as white-tailed deer, black bear, sharp-tailed grouse, wild turkey, American woodcock and watchable wildlife such as monarch butterflies, upland sandpiper, and bobolinks will be beneficiaries of this project’s action. The local communities benefit by the influx of people interested in hunting and non-hunting related activities on associated National Forest, other public and private land. Finally, this project has benefitted culturally important Native American species and lands through cooperative partnerships and stewardship of their ceded lands. When added together the wildlife, barrens habitat and social benefits from this project will have lasting positive impacts in northern Wisconsin.