Northwoods Forest History

  • Article

    The history of the northwoods forest can, from the perspective of current residents, be divided into three periods: Everything that went before the logging around the turn of the century, the logging era, and the development of new forest following the logging.

    Logging began in northern Wisconsin at about the middle of the nineteenth century, but started in the area around Star Lake with the arrival of the railroad and logging company in 1894. By 1910 it was, for all practical purposes, over. From the point of view of European Americans, that was the major event in Star Lake history. That story has been told in many books and other media, and is summarized with specific details relating to Star Lake at the topic No topic [logging the logging era].

    The history of the forest prior to the logging, that is prior to 1894 in the Star Lake area, is not well understood. There is little agreement as to exactly what it looked like when the loggers arrived, and even less as to how it got that way. The conventional wisdom is that this was a huge pine forest--mostly white pine--with giant trees just waiting to be cut. It has been generally assumed that it had looked very much like it did in 1894 for centuries prior to that, in other words that the forest in 1894 was the climax vegetation and reflected a stable ecosystem that would have continued had it not been for the invasion of the loggers at the turn of the century.

    That picture of the Star Lake forest is very unlikely: The image of massive amounts of mature white pine probably exceeds the reality by a huge amount. Further the state of the forest was probably not a climax vegetation, but a stage that evolved from prior conditions likely created by either Native Americans or cataclysmic forest fire. White pine is not shade tolerant but grows best with a nurse crop of aspen or birch. The extensive mature white pine forests of northern Wisconsin in the 19th century, which would have been 200 to 500 years old, suggest a cataclysmic event between the 14th and 17th centuries. Curtis, 1959

    In fact, it has been suggested that coupled with such an event, presumably an extensive forest fire, a significant shrinkage of the Native American population resulting from interface with European Americans, would have allowed the pine forest to mature in a way that was atypical of centuries which preceded it.

    The above are preliminary thoughts on the virgin forests of the area. Further explorations of current knowledge in this field will be noted here in the future.

    Detailed studies are available of the forests that have grown since the logging, but the picture of the landscape as the loggers left the region is less clear. We know that there were extensive fires around Star Lake following the logging., but they were not universal. The townsite, peninsula, and the area around the present North Star Lodge never burned. However, across Highway K from the present store one can see evidence in the form of firebreaks and charred stumps that indicate that fires came close to the town. Thus, as a starting point for the new forest we have unburned and burned land. The burning of the slash must have left almost completely denuded land, and that may have been typical of the unburned land as well. Certainly the area on the peninsula planted as the Star Lake Plantation was completely clear when planted.

    There is an interesting survey of the forest around Star Lake done in 1904 by J. J. Neuman, who was collecting Polyporaceae (a family of fungi) as an agent of the United States Bureau of Forestry. Newman, 1914 He surveyed in Vilas, Oneida and Ashland Counties. In Vilas "two townships north and west of Star Lake were studied, consisting largely of the Merrill Lumber Company's and Langely and Alderson's timber." Newman notes, "In the region around Star Lake the same kinds of trees (as Oneida County) were found, but the proportion of deciduous trees is greater. Birches, poplar and scarlet oak make up a very large part of the forest here. In some districts the forest is made up entirely of deciduous trees, with here and there a white or red pine and a few dwarfed firs. The swamps in this region are covered with spruce, tamarack and arbor vitae." He goes on to note, "Near Razorback Lake there is a little tamarack swamp of about twelve acres. There are many large trees here having diameters of over elever inches and ages of from eighty to one hundred and twenty years."

    Neuman continues to note, "In Oneida and Vilas counties the birch is nearly all defective except the young growth, which covers the cut-over areas." Regretably, this suggests the presence of old growth birch, but gives no hint of its extent. This suggests that the virgin forest had some level of birch, certainly needed as a seed source following the cut-over.

    Three things happened to the cut-over area: It was planted with trees, as for example the Star Lake Plantation, it was allowed to return to second growth forest, or it was cleared for agriculture. Since farming proved to be a total failure in this area, the farmed areas returned to second growth forest as well, except a decade or so later.

    Charles P. Forbes
    July 24, 2009
  • Bibliography

    Comprehensive References

    Residents Resisted Fire Control, The First 100 Years, 1888-1988, Centennial Edition, p.140, Minocqua, 1988. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin Forest Fires, 1894, Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin, 29:4, July-Aug 1964, pp. 16-17., Madison, 1964. View Full Entry
    Chips and Sawdust, Quarterly Newsletter from the Forest History Association of Wisconsin, Inc., Two Rivers, Wisconsin, 2014. View Full Entry
    Arzigian, Constance, Prehistoric Native American Use of Nuts and Berries from the Forests of Wisconsin, Proceedings of the 20th Annual Meeting of the Forest History Assn. of WI, Sept. 9-10, 1995, Plover, WI, 1995. View Full Entry
    Berquist, Goodwin, Ed., Natural Resources of Northern Wisconsin, Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. LIII, Part A, 1964, Madison, 1964. View Full Entry
    Bourdo, Eric A. Jr., Review of Genl Land Office Survey & of Its Use in Studies of Former Forests, Ecology, Vol. 37, #4, October 1956, pp. 754-68, Ithaca, NY, 1956. View Full Entry
    Candy, R. H., Discussion on the Reproduction and Development of White Pine, The Forestry Chronicle, Vol. 15, 1939, pp. 88-92., Mattawa, ON , 1939. View Full Entry
    Cox, Thomas, Romanticism, Progress, and Science in the Late Nineteenth Century, Journal of Forest History, Vol. 29, #4, October 1985, pp. 156-168, Durham, NC, 1985. View Full Entry
    Curtis, John, White Pine, Curtis: The Vegetation of Wisconsin, Madison, 1959, pp204-205., Madison, 1959. View Full Entry
    Davis, Mary, Eastern Old-Growth Forests, Washington, 1996. View Full Entry
    Davis, Mary, Extent and Location [of Old-Growth Forests], In: Davis: Eastern Old-Growth Forests, Chapter 2. (See Bibliography entry), Washington, 1996. View Full Entry
    Dombeck, Michael, Forests that Sustain Us, Wisconsin Trails, 45 #6, Dec. 2004, pp. 44-49., Black Earth, 2004. View Full Entry
    Fixmer, Frank, Forest History Association of Wisconsin's First 20 Years, Proceedings of the 20th Annual Meeting of the Forest History Assn. of WI, Sept. 9-10, 1995, Plover, WI, 1995. View Full Entry
    Flint, Elizabeth, Pine Tree Shield, Garden City, New York, 1943. View Full Entry
    Forest History Association of Wisconsin, Proceedings of Annual Meetings, Wausau, 1995. View Full Entry
    Gates, Paul, Wisconsin Pine Lands of Cornell University, Madison, 1965. View Full Entry
    Giese, et al., Historical Account of Forestry at the University of Wisconsin, Staff Paper Series Number 14, Madison, 1983. View Full Entry
    Graham, Samuel, et al., Aspens Phoenix Trees of the Great Lakes Region, Ann Arbor, 1963. View Full Entry
    Gray and Ellefson, Lake States Wood Product Production and Consumption, Northern Journal of Applied Forestry, Vol. 4, #4, December 1987, pp193-7, Bethesda, MD, 1987. View Full Entry
    Judd, Richard, Wonderful Order and Balance: Natural History & Beginnings of Forest Conservation, Environmental History, Vol. 11, #1, Jan. 2006, pp. 8-36, Durham, NC, 2006. View Full Entry
    Kilp, F. G., Industrial Foresty in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin, 19:3, March, 1954, pp. 16-19., Madison, 1954. View Full Entry
    Leverett, Robert, Definitions and History [of Old Growth Forests], In: Davis: Eastern Old-Growth Forests, Chapter 1. (See Bibliography entry), Washington, 1996. View Full Entry
    Lillard, Richard, Great Forest, New York, 1947. View Full Entry
    Maissurow, D. K., Fire as a Necessary Factor in the Perpetuation of White Pine, Journal of Forestry, Vol. 33, 1935, pp. 373-8., Bethesda, MD, 1935. View Full Entry
    Maissurow, D. K., Role of Fire in the Perpetuation of Virgin Forests of Northern Wisconsin, Journal of Forestry, Vol. 39, #2, 1941, pp. 201-207, Bethesda, MD, 1941. View Full Entry
    McCormick, Dell, Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe, Caldwell, Idaho, 1966. View Full Entry
    Mladenoff et al., Wisconsin's Land Cover in the 1800's, Wisconsin Natural Resources, Vol. 33, #4, August, 2009, Center Feature, Map Insert, Madison, 2009. View Full Entry
    Moore, Trisha, Pine Plantations--Farming Our Forests, Northbound, Vol. 26, #4, Winter 2007, P. 4-5., Eagle River, 2007. View Full Entry
    Northland College, On Campus: Back to Nature, Horizons, Winter 2000, pp. 3-4., Ashland, 2000. View Full Entry
    Pohlman, et al. (ed.), Wisconsin Land Legacy Report, Madison, 2006. View Full Entry
    Redding, Roger, Iron County Forests, Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin, February, 1955, pp. 25-28., Madison, 1955. View Full Entry
    Standing Woman and Steve Comer, Old-Growth Forests: A Native American Perspective, In: Davis: Eastern Old-Growth Forests, Chapter 8. (See Bibliography entry), Washington, 1996. View Full Entry
    Stearns, Forest, History of the Lake States Forests, Great Lakes Ecological Assessment Reports: Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-189, 1997, St. Paul, 1997. View Full Entry
    Stoddard, Glenn, Integreated Resource Management and Private Forestry: One State's Approach, Journal of Forestry, February, 1988, Bethesda, MD, 1988. View Full Entry
    Stokes and Dieterich, Fire History Workshop, 1980, Tucson, USDA Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-81., Fort Collins, CO, 1980. View Full Entry
    Tyrrell Lucy, National Forests in the Eastern Region: Land Allocation and Planning for Old Growth, In: Davis: Eastern Old-Growth Forests, Chapter 17. (See Bibliography entry), Washington, 1996. View Full Entry
    US, Agriculture, Dept. of, Land, The Yearbook of Agriculture, 1958, Washington, 0958. View Full Entry
    Wells, Robert, Daylight in the Swamp, Ashland, 1987. View Full Entry
    Wennersten, John, The Chesapeake Environment, Maryland Historical Magazine 91:2, Summe, 1996, pp.156-179, Baltimore, 1996. View Full Entry
    Whitebeck, Ray, Geography and Industries of Wisconsin, Bulletin No. 26, Educational Series No. 3, Madison, 1913. View Full Entry
    Wilson and Steigerwaldt, photographers, What's Going On?, Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin, January, 1956, back cover., Madison, 1956. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin Committee on Land Use and Forestry, Forest Land Use in Wisconsin, Madison, 1932. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin DNR, Celebrating 100 Years of Forestry in Wisconsin, Brochure, DNR: PUB-FR-266 2003, Madison, 2003. View Full Entry
    Wyman, Mark, Wisconsin Frontier, Bloomington, IN, 1998. View Full Entry

    Major References

    Glaciers Paved Way for Pine Forest, The First Hundred Years; 1888-1988, Minocquo-Woodruff Centennial Edition, Minocqua, 1988. View Full Entry
    Regrowth of Pine, Minocqua Times, November 5, 1896, Reprinted from the American Cultivator, Minocqua, 1896. View Full Entry
    State Forestry Began in Lakeland Area, The First 100 Years, 1888-1988, Centennial Edition, p.139., Minocqua, 1988. View Full Entry
    Timber Question, The Central, Jan. 17, 1871, Wausau, 1871. View Full Entry
    Botti and Moore, Michigan's State Forests: A Century of Stewardship, East Lansing, 2006. View Full Entry
    Clepper, Henry, Crusade for Conservatio, Washington, 1975. View Full Entry
    Curtis, John, Vegetation of Wisconsin, 1971 Printing, Madison, Milwaukee, London, 1971. View Full Entry
    Cutright and Kearns, Effects of Deer Herbivory on Birds, Madison, 2010. View Full Entry
    Daniel and Sullivan, North Woods of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Southern Ontario, A Sierra Club Naturalist's Guide, San Francisco, 1981. View Full Entry
    Danziger, Jr., Chippewas of Lake Superior, The Civilization of the American Indian Series, Vol. 148., Norman, 1979. View Full Entry
    Finan, Ann-Marie S., Editor, Wisconsin Forests at the Millennium: an Assessment, PUB-FR-161 2000, Madison, 2000. View Full Entry
    Flader, Susan, Ed., Great Lakes Forest, Minneapolis, 1983. View Full Entry
    Habeck and Curtis, Forest Cover and Deer Population Densities in Early Northern Wisconsin, Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. 48, 1959., Madison, 1959. View Full Entry
    Harrison, R. P., Aspen Management, Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin, 20:2, Feb. 1955, pp. 18-22., Madison, 1955. View Full Entry
    Haskin, Frederic, Work of Civilian Conservation Corps in Nation's Forests, Sheboygan Press, May 6, 1942, page 27; reprinted in Chips and Sawdust, Vol. 39, #4, Winter 2015, pp. 9-11., Two Rivers, Wisconsin, 2015. View Full Entry
    Hergert, Herbert, Tannin Extraction Industry in the US, Journal of Forest History, April 1983., 1983. View Full Entry
    Jellinek and Mitchell, Carving Up the Forest, The Timber Producer, No. 3, March 1996., Rhinelander, 1996. View Full Entry
    Kassulke and Mladenoff, Wisconsin's Land Cover Through the Eyes of 19th Century Surveyors, Wisconsin Natural Resources, Vol. 33, #4, August, 2009, Center Feature, Madison, 2009. View Full Entry
    Kates, James, Planning a Wilderness, Published in cooperation with the Center for American Places, Santa Fe, NM, and Harrisonburg, VA, Minneapolis, 2001. View Full Entry
    Krech, Shepard, Ecological Indian, Myth and History, NY, 1999. View Full Entry
    Lapham et al., Report of the Disastrous Effects of the Destruction of Forest Trees, Now Going On So Rapidly in the State of Wisconsin., Madison, 1867. View Full Entry
    Mann, Charles, 1491, New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, NY, 2005. View Full Entry
    Martin, A. J., Star Lake Plantation in 1986, Forestry Research Notes No. 269, Madison, 1987. View Full Entry
    Mayo, Walter, Brief History of the Beginning of the Vilas County Forest, Proceedings of the Forest History Association of Wisconsin, 17th Annual Meeting, 1992,, Eagle River., Wausau, 1992. View Full Entry
    Meehan, Megan, What Has Changed in the Northwoods Over Time?, Northbound, 22:4, Winter, 2003, Eagle River, 2003. View Full Entry
    Merz, Robert, Forest Atlas of the Midwest, St. Paul, 1978. View Full Entry
    Meyer, Thomas, ed., Plum Lake Hemlock Forest, Wisconsin, Naturally, DNR PUB-115 2003, Page 130, Madison, 2003. View Full Entry
    Mortier, Ralph, Wisconsin's Changing Forests, Wisconsin Natural Resources, V.7 #4 Jul-Aug 1983 p.50., Madison, 1983. View Full Entry
    Neuman, J. J., Polyporaceae of Wisconsin, WI Geological & Natural History Survey, Bulletin #33, Scientific Series # 10, Madison, 1914. View Full Entry
    Powell, et al., Forest resources of the United States, 1992, Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-GTR-234, Rev. 1994, Fort Collins, CO, 1994. View Full Entry
    Ring, Wilson, Timber! Lumberjacks Fading from the Northern Forest, Hartford Courant (AP), Website, 2016, Hartford, CT, 2016. View Full Entry
    Rohe, Randall, 100 Years of Wisconsin Forestry, Wisconsin Natural Resources, 28:1, Feb. 2004, pp. 17-21., Madison, 2004. View Full Entry
    Rohe, et al. eds., One Hundred Years of Wisconsin Forestry, Black Earth, WI, 2004. View Full Entry
    Severt, Jane, Interview with Jane Severt - Value of Our County Forest, Partners News, February, 2016, p. 2., Conover, 2016. View Full Entry
    Smith, J. A., Forests Needn't Die., Wis. Conservation Bulletin, No/De'65, V30#6, p.14., 1965. View Full Entry
    Stolzenburg, William, New Views of Ancient Times, Nature Conservancy, V.44, #5, Sept/Oct 1994, p.10, Arlington, VA, 1994. View Full Entry
    Walker, Scott, Governor Walker Announces Dnr Forestry Headquarters Move to Rhinelander, Press Release, Office of the Governor, State of Wisconsin, October 25, 2018, Madison, 2018. View Full Entry
    West, A. Joshua, Forests and National Security, Environmental History, Vol. 8, #2, April, 2003, pp. 270-293, Durham, NC, 2003. View Full Entry
    Whitney, Gordon, From Coastal Wilderness to Fruited Plain, New York, 1994. View Full Entry
    Wiland, Lawrence, Northern Forest Restoration: A Growing Movement, Northern Light, Fall 2000, pp. 16-18., Ashland, 2000. View Full Entry
    Wilson, F. G., E. M. Griffith and the Early Story of Wisconsin Forestry (1903-1915), Madison, 1982. View Full Entry
    Wilson, et al., Fifty years from seed: the Star Lake plantation , Technical Bulletin # 27., Madison, 1963. View Full Entry
    Wilson, Fred G., Forest Trees of Wisconsin, 1972 (Pub. 507-72, DO818);1977 (Pub. 2-2400(77); 1990 (PUBL-FR-053 90REV); 2006 (PUB-FR-053 2006) editions, Madison, 2006. View Full Entry
    Wilson, Fred G., Zoning for Forestry and Recreation: Wisconsin's Pioneer Role, Wisconsin Magazine of History, 41:2, 1957-1958, Madison, 1957. View Full Entry
    Wilson, F. G., Conservation Concepts in Wisconsin, Wis. Conservation Bulletin, June '41, V6#6, p. 3., 1941. View Full Entry
    Wilson, F. G., Thinning as an Orderly Discipline, Journal of Forestry, 77:8, August 1979. Reprinted by the DNR., 1979. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin Conservation Department, Centennial Issue, June 1948, Wis. Conservation Bulletin, June'48, V.13, #6., 1948. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin Conservation Department, Land in 1804-1805, Wis. Conservation Bulletin, 12:1, Jan 47, p. 34., 1947. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin, Natural Resources, Dept. of, DNR Impact in Vilas County, Madison, 2014. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin DNR, NHAL State Forest Timber Sales, Wisconsin DNR Website, Revision of April 3, 2017, and related papers, Madison, 2017. View Full Entry

    Minor References

    Flambeau Mill: The First Hundred Years, The Timber Producer, No. 4, April 1996., Rhinelander, 1996. View Full Entry
    Larsen, Jame, Wisconsin's Renewable Resources, Madison, 1956. View Full Entry
  • Links
  • Images
  • Documents
  • Miscellany