The Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (NBWA) is a 6,438 acre property located in the far northern portions of Burnett and Washburn Counties in northwestern Wisconsin, consisting of two units located a few miles apart. The north unit lies 7 miles east of Highway 35 on St. Croix Trail Road or 11 miles west of Minong. The south unit is 2 miles to the south and west of the north unit on Namekagon Road and Springbrook Trail.
Photo by Dale Bohlke
The St. Croix River flows within a mile to the west of the barrens while the Namekagon River lies between the two units. Both rivers are designated as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The NBWA is part of the Northwest Sands Area of northwest Wisconsin. This pine/oak barren habitat type is a fire loving community that is globally rare and rich with diverse prairie flora and fauna. It is home to many rare and common wildlife species. Two trout streams, Beaver Creek and Clemens Creek, originate from springs on the north unit and flow to the nearby St. Croix River. The surrounding lands are mainly county forest and industrial forests, and contain mostly jack pine, scrub oak, and red pine plantation forests (information borrowed from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website). Many old-timers in the area refer to the entire sandy region found in the area as “the barrens” or “the pine barrens.” They often refer to the very young habitat found after a fire as “brush prairie.” Perhaps more frequently, people refer only to the recently burned areas as barrens. The region is noted for having very sandy, droughty soils. Prior to modern fire control techniques much of this area burned quite frequently either by acts of nature, such as lightning strikes, or was intentionally burned by humans. Early settlers frequently set fires to clear land for farming. Prior to this, Native Americans burned the region to attract game animals, stimulate blueberry production, control biting insects, and ease cross country travel. These frequent fires kept much of the landscape in a mixture of brush, prairie plants, and very short oak or pine. Pine barrens covered 7% of the land, or 2.3 million acres, prior to the European settlement. Oak barrens covered 5%, or 1.8 million acres. As of 1995, approximately 10,000 acres of good quality pine and oak barrens remained at 65 Wisconsin sites. To date, the total estimate of remaining pine and oak barrens is 50,000 acres, but much of it is degraded. Most remaining pine and oak barrens exist as small, isolated fragments on approximately a dozen state- or federally-managed areas. These fragments may indicate that a larger area of the surrounding landscape has the potential to return to a barrens stage. (Info taken from Wisconsin Ecological Landscapes Handbook)..
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