Those landowners lucky enough to own a piece of the north woods region are entrusted with a very special treasure. When compared with other northwoods areas in Wisconsin and Minnesota, this region has a high level of biodiversity, meaning that the number of different kinds of animals, plants, and fungi found here is almost mind-boggling. This contributes significantly to the region’s scenic beauty and interest. Because of this richness, the ecosystem of this region tends to be stable and resilient to natural short-term environmental changes.
The plethora of species in this region is due in large part to its varied glacial terrain, including the great interlobate or kettle moraine dominating much of our north central section. Approximately 12,500 years ago, two major glacial lobes bulldozed against one another and melted, creating a rugged topography with a full range of moisture regimes, exposures, slope gradients and soil types. The numerous bogs, lakes, and other wetlands of this region are a testament to this history.
It seems that no two wetlands of this region are identical in appearance or in the species they contain. This comes from their unique location, chemistry and, especially, the vagaries of plant dispersal and subsequent domination over the past few thousand years. All this adds up to a feast for the eyes as one leaves the developed areas and explores the region’s natural wetlands and forests. You may come across rare species such as the Wood and Blanding’s Turtles (which are making one of their last stands in this area and are protected by law as an endangered species) or chance across some of the region’s fascinating carnivorous plants.
The large forested tracts of northern Wisconsin serve as a vital source for songbirds throughout the Midwest. As a result of forest fragmentation and habitat destruction, many woodland species are unable to raise offspring elsewhere in the Midwest. Thus the Couderay watershed area serves to maintain populations of songbirds as far away as Missouri. If local development and large-scale logging continue unabated, deep forest songbirds could face widespread population collapse with serious ecological consequences. Many of these birds help control particular insect pests.
Wildlife, from salamanders to bobcats, needs a varied woodland structure to provide ideal habitat conditions. “Structure” includes dead and dying trees, fallen logs and a variety of types and ages of plants, including wildflowers, shrubs and trees. Accordingly, a habitat with good “structure” will provide diverse food and shelter requirements for many kinds of wildlife. Landowners can help preserve such birds and other animals by maintaining their forests in a natural state.
A diverse natural forest protected from human encroachment and degradation also provides innumerable other benefits. Intact forests moderate the climate, thereby allowing nearby homes to save on energy costs. Their foliage filters out sound and air pollutants. Roots and duff (decomposed litter) preserve the water quality of this region by filtration, preventing excess nutrient and sediment runoff and also helping maintain a steady stream flow and lake levels.
Finally, the Upper Chippewa, Namekagon, Flambeau and Red Cedar watersheds area is an important ecotone where different ecosystems converge and blend. Hemlock, white cedar, white spruce, butternut and hickory all reach their range limits here. This also helps explain the region’s high biodiversity. Each kind of tree has its own unique effect on the environment, thereby influencing what lives and grows nearby.
The ecological and preservation needs of each property, and the objectives of each landowner, are unique. Couderay Waters Regional Land Trust provides resources for land protection that can be designed to suit a landowner’s specific interests and objectives. Representatives of CWRLT can discuss land protection options varying from limited conservation easements to outright grants.