Nonprofit group to restore oak forests

Forests in Sauk County will be primed for oak growth and provide better habitat for birds and other wildlife after restoration efforts that are set to take place over the next few months, a nonprofit conservation group says.
Tim Damos

Representatives of The Nature Conservancy caution that people may see some out-of-the- ordinary things at Baxter’s Hollow, located between Sauk City and Baraboo, and Hemlock Draw, which sits about 30 minutes southwest of Baraboo near Leland.

“They’ll see some small trees laying on the ground, and in some cases some standing trees that will be dead,” said Cate Harrington, a spokeswoman for The Nature Conservancy. “This isn’t random. We’ve had our scientists thinking about this for a while. We think it will work.”

The goal is to allow more light into certain areas where oak trees have stopped regenerating. That should provide enough room and light for the oaks, which are critical to forest health, to spread.

In some cases, contractors may use controlled fires to clear areas and reduce competition among plant species. That will be done by trained professionals with careful consideration for neighbors and weather conditions, the conservation group says.

The project will focus on 90 acres of property inside Baxter’s Hollow and 70 acres at Hemlock Draw. Work began in September and will continue over the next year.

Project coordinator Ann Calhoun said certain plants and trees that have overgrown will be removed, allowing more light into those areas. At some point, the project may include timber sales.

The additional space will give oaks more room to drop acorns. Once deer and turkey have eaten their fill, there should be enough left on the ground to germinate additional trees. But it could take up to 10 years to start to see results, Calhoun said.

“It’s great to see what comes in when there’s more light on the forest floor,” she said.

The project, which will cost more than $10,000, is partially funded by turkey stamp grants through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The Nature Conservancy, which has been in existence since 1951, works to protect ecologically important lands and waters. The organization has protected more than 119 million acres and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide, according to its website.

The Nature Conservancy currently protects more than 11,000 acres in the Baraboo Hills, the largest block of upland forest that remains in southern Wisconsin. Most of the nonprofit’s property near Baraboo is open to the public for low-impact recreational activities, including hunting.

The MEC supports the people and work of Greater Milwaukee’s environmental community. We foster collaboration through shared space and resources, incubate new initiatives, and activate diverse champions for a clean and healthy environment.