Thursday, June 29, 2017

Forest Majesty

By Drew Hanson

Have you ever tried to explain majesty? It is no easy thing to put to words. It is a subjective thing that can inspire and motivate people. You know it when you see it. One example is mountain majesty. Another is a stand of big trees.

It seems a fair assumption that most people have felt a sense of wonder or awe when standing at the base of really big trees. It does not matter that the big trees of California are bigger than big trees elsewhere. It’s all relative. I have stood among giant sequoia and redwood but still have my sense of wonder and awe piqued when I stand beside mature white pine or bur oak. No matter how you define big, big trees are majestic. This is especially true where there are many of them in an old growth or virgin forest.

Call it forest majesty. Any place where trees are allowed to reach old age can offer forest majesty. But trees do not reach old age unless they have people who care about them a whole awful lot.

Wisconsin is one place that lost nearly all its virgin forest. People tend to think our original forests were all cleared by 1900. In fact, a surprising amount of uncut forest remained in America’s Dairyland well into the 1930s, including areas along today’s Ice Age Trail in Lincoln and Langlade counties. Click on the map below to better see where virgin forest remained in 1932.

So, in the 1930s, while the states of Tennessee and North Carolina were rushing to save some of their last stands of virgin forest to create Smoky Mountains National Park, Wisconsin was cutting hers down. The stands of big trees that remain in Wisconsin today are tiny remnants at places like Cathedral of Pines in Oconto County and Gerstberger Pines in Taylor County.

Today’s Wisconsinites who desire the inspiration of an old growth forest must travel to the Smokies or to Michigan’s Porkies or even California’s sequoias.

However, this is not just a story of loss. This is also a story of action. If we manage some of our lands properly, Wisconsin can regain some of its lost forest majesty. Future generations of Wisconsinites could be able to hike through old growth forest to marvel at enormous trees. We should make it a priority to ensure this happens along portions of the Ice Age Trail.

Some areas along the Trail are going to continue to see timber harvest. In some cases, it is necessary. But in order for more segments of the Ice Age Trail to be places of inspiration, places where people return again and again, where more local economies benefit from the Trail, more areas along it must become places of forest majesty. More miles of the Trail need to provide wonder and awe.

What is needed are for middle-age native forests along the Ice Age Trail to be given permanent protection. Places like the Ringle and Chequamegon segments would make good candidates. This will ensure that future generations can experience the inspirational grandeur of forest majesty.

It’s up to us. What are you going to do to help?

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