Iron River Roadless Area - Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
As a watershed filter and a provider of hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing and hunting experiences, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) is the crown jewel of the Wisconsin North Woods. Visitors spend over $1 billion at Wisconsinís North woods each year and hundreds of wildlife species, some of which exist in no other part of the world, make the forest a great asset to the stateís economy and environment. Unfortunately, under the guise of creating so-called 'Healthy Forests,' logging remains a constant threat and the forestís health is in great jeopardy.
The stateís endangered pine marten, a cat sized mammal and member of the weasel family, requires functioning older forests and heavily relies on large hollow yellow birch for nesting dens and large fallen logs for hunting and hiding from larger predators. Deforestation has taken a precipitous fall in the animalís population. The 1990 Cayuga timber sale area population was 150 in 1990, but only 3 animals were detected in the 2003-2004 survey season despite it being by far the most extensive marten survey ever done in the area.
Currently white pines, known by many as 'the tree that built America,' are failing to reproduce largely because over grazing by whitetail deer which thrive in areas that have been heavily logged. White tail deer are also making it difficult for white cedar, yellow birch and hemlock trees to regenerate. The overgrazing is also causing substantial harm to the forestís native plants. Further exacerbating the problem is the lack of fallen trees which become important 'nurse logs' for sprouting hemlock and yellow birch.
Beaver, another species that flourishes with logging, are damming up trout streams and making them too warm for native brook trout. Beaver love young aspen trees which sprout out like mad when logging opens up the forest canopy. Currently over half of the class one trout streams in the CNNF are too warm for native brook trout.
Three timber sales, the Northwest Howell, Cayuga and McCaslin are currently in litigation over violations of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) due to the U.S. Forest Serviceís failure to use up-to-date population viability assessments of declining species such as Pine marten, Northern goshawk and Goblin fern. Other failures include poor cumulative effects analysis on adjacent habitat. Environmentalists say the Howell and Cayuga especially are some of the last places where we can protect and recover the Old growth forest that once dominated 85 percent of Wisconsinís north woods but now only represent 2 percent of the CNNF.
The new CNNF Forest Plan currently is in a 60 day window - only parties who submitted comments on the CNNF Forest Plan Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) have the right to file an appeal. Advocates say the CNNF Plan that the Forest Service is offering provides too much young forest favoring the current over population of deer and beaver that are heavily damaging trout streams, tree reproduction and forest floor plant populations. It also fails to do enough to protect northern goshawk, red- shouldered hawk and pine marten. The plan permits all terrain vehicles in the Nicolet region, which will now help spread invasive species in that forest. The new plan also fails to protect most of the 69,000 acres of roadless area that represent key wetland complexes and are havens to recovering federally listed timber wolf. Both the timber sales and the plan will be decided upon by this fall. For further information go to www.hecenter.org and www.elpc.org
Images courtesy Habitat Education Center