STOP 1: NAMEKAGON BARRENS WILDLIFE AREA
Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (NBWA) consists of the South Unit and the North Unit. You are currently on the South Unit. Historically, this mixture of brush, young trees, prairie grasses, and forbs was very common in Wisconsin. The lack of mature forest on these burned-over landscapes caused people to refer to such areas as the “barrens.” In truth, these open landscapes are home to a rich diversity of wildlife and are covered by numerous species of plant life as well.
The settlement of Wisconsin and improved fire protection resulted in a great reduction of wildfires which allowed the barrens to become forested. Some areas were converted to farming, others were actively managed for timber production through the planting of trees, and other barrens were converted to numerous other uses. It is estimated that the barrens habitat once covered from four to six million acres in Wisconsin. Today this type of habitat has been reduced to about 50,000 acres. This type of habitat is currently considered globally significant because it is currently found in only a few small areas within a couple of states.
Very little of the estimated 50,000 acres of barrens remaining in Wisconsin today have steep and rolling topography similar to that of the South Unit. Barrens are maintained by periodic managed fires, or controlled, burns. The use of fire to maintain habitat must be done with extreme caution to insure that a controlled burn doesn’t become an out of control wildfire. Steep slopes often cause fire to behave erratically. The slopes create frequent changes in wind direction which can cause fires to race uphill or creep downhill. The difficulty to maintain this steep topography as open barrens makes the South Unit quite unique in Wisconsin.
Later you will be visiting the North Unit of the NBWA. You will notice that this area is much flatter and larger than the South Unit. While the topography is less steep, it too is very rich in both plants and animal species. Visits at dawn and dusk often result in many different species of animals seen. Visits during different months of the growing season will reward you with a variety of different flowering plants in bloom.