Maintaining sharp-tailed grouse population in the pine barrens of Wisconsin


    The pine barrens of northwest Wisconsin cover a much smaller area now than they did 100 years ago: The wildfires that are a natural occurrence of the region have been suppressed or treated as emergencies since European settlers arrived, which has contributed to a significant reduction in the sandy, open spaces required by the sharp-tailed grouse to thrive. This fragmentation of its habitat can result in genetic isolation and is one of the factors driving the species’ decline across North America. To maintain a healthy grouse population in the pine barrens, translocation efforts aim to establish a genetically diverse self-sustaining population that can connect with other populations in nearby habitats, while providing co-benefits for biodiversity.


    We manage a 76,660 acre timberland property in a key area of this imperiled landscape and our Senior Forester, Sarah Wulf, and Annie Hussa, our Lake States Regional Manager, led our collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) on the Northwest Sands Habitat Corridor Plan, which aims to create a non-fragmented landscape for the benefit of sharp-tailed grouse and other barrens-dependent species, such as the Kirtland’s warbler. Working together, we combat range contractions by identifying and restoring habitat corridors between existing barren patches in the Northwest Sands’ ecological landscape, where we replicate the effect of fire on a landscape to create the open spaces and habitat corridors that the species needs. We also assist in monitoring the activity of the sharp-tailed grouse by GPS tagging and data collection from a viewing blind located near a “lek”, (sharp-tail grouse mating ground), which is available for the public's use.


    This collaborative approach appears to be working, with nearly 200 male sharp-tailed grouse spotted in our northwest corner of the state in contrast to the number of males observed in other areas, where they have all but disappeared. As the birds respond positively to habitat work, we hope to continue and expand the partnerships that make reconnecting the NW pine barrens possible through planning partnerships with land managers and supporting groups. By increasing and reconnecting existing habitats, we aim to strategically reach a critical mass that enables long-term sustainability, helping to save the Wisconsin sharp-tailed grouse and many other associated species dependent on this important habitat.

    Our timberlands’ location, and the conservation easements granted on this focal property, meant that we were well positioned to help with this habitat enhancement effort, and our cooperation with State and Federal agencies has been rewarded in recognition of our outstanding stewardship of the environment.

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