Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Proposed Yellow River Hemlock Esker National Monument

As wild places around the country are bestowed the protection of national monument status, it is time this attention and safeguarding be given to deserving areas along the Ice Age Trail. One such special place is located in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, in Taylor County, Wisconsin.

The proposed Yellow River Hemlock Esker National Monument is a magical place, centered around the prominent Hemlock Esker. This esker was created during the Ice Age by a river flowing at the base of a vast continental ice sheet. Imagine how huge the glacier must have been to have a river flowing inside at its base that deposited a miles-long sinuous ridge, what geologists today call an esker. The eastern and southern flanks of the esker, drained by sections of the wild Yellow River and some of its tributaries, are also part of the proposed monument.

Natural communities within the proposed monument include extensive tracts of mature hemlock-hardwood forest, areas of rich maple-basswood forest, open meadow in the upper reaches of Sailor Creek, several stands of lowland conifer dominated by white cedar and black ash and several headwater, morainal stream segments canopied with long lived species. The hemlock-hardwood forest is the dominant forest type occurring on hummocky end moraine and esker topography. Common associates include yellow birch, sugar maple and red maple. White ash, red oak, white spruce and super-canopy white pine are also present. Northern white cedar is frequently found on slopes bordering wetlands and in some ground moraine areas. Frequent snags and coarse woody debris contribute to the old-growth structure. An open shrub layer is dominated by hazelnut and gooseberry. Ground flora includes sweet cicely, intermediate wood fern, common oak fern and rough-leaved rice grass. The lowland coniferous forest forms a closed canopy white cedar forest in some areas. Black ash, red maple, yellow birch, hemlock and balsam fir are common associates. The ground layer is lush and diverse featuring such species as cinnamon fern, sensitive fern, one-sided shin-leaf, dwarf red raspberry, bunchberry and bryophytes. The understory is dense and consists of mountain maple, speckled alder and common winterberry. Bog forests of tamarack and black spruce with red maple, paper birch, yellow birch and white pine are present. Northern sedge meadows are common along Sailor Creek, especially where beaver have flooded the hardwood swamps. Both the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) are documented breeding birds. Common resident birds include winter wren, hermit thrush, red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, blackburnian warbler and black-throated green warbler.

As national monuments go, the proposed Yellow River Hemlock Esker National Monument would be a small one, only about 8,000 acres. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in significance. It includes most of the Ice Age Semi-Primitive Area, most of Lost Lake Esker State Natural Area and one of the wildest segments of the entire thousand-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Note that contour maps of this area are in error and omit most of Hemlock Esker.

The proposed monument is administered by the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. National monument designation is needed to at last resolve long-term management issues. First, authorized and unauthorized motorized use is occurring within this geologically and recreationally unique area where the highest and best use is primitive, pedestrian recreational uses such as hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, birding and non-motorized hunting of non-predator species. Second, although timber harvest in parts of this area is currently limited, it should be permanently further restricted in the larger area encompassed by the proposed monument. This would allow additional old growth characteristics to develop that support wildlife species who depend on old growth conditions and enhance primitive, pedestrian recreation. Finally, existing modest protections for the Ice Age Trail and Semi-Primitive Area are temporary, based only on a management plan that is regularly re-written and open to interpretation. Negotiations over how this unique area needs to be managed should be put to rest instead of being re-hashed every decade or two. Local tourism would benefit by having such a unique and permanently protected national monument as more people would travel greater distances to experience such a wild and special place.

Some of the countless articles showing the economic benefits of national monuments are:

The proposed Yellow River Hemlock Esker National Monument would be good for the public, good for wildlife and good for the local economy.