Moquah Barrens Management Plan

Burning happening on the Moquah Barrens

In 2009, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest completed a 22,000 acre management plan for the Moquah Barrens (Northwest Sands Restoration Project) outlining objectives for restoring the forest structure, plant and animal species composition, and fire regime to the landscape in support of the unique and globally imperiled pine barrens ecosystem.  The restoration activities to accomplish these objectives include the use of prescribed burns, timber harvests, invasive species removal, native seed planting and ongoing monitoring.  Funding for restoration activities is acquired through timber sales as well as landscape restoration initiatives such as the Lake Superior Landscape Restoration Partnership and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds.

Moquah Barrens is divided into 15 prescribed burn units and is managed through timber harvest and a 2,000 to 5,000 acre per year rotation of prescribed burning.  Prescribed fire maintains the critical pine barrens habitat type for a wide variety of plant and animal species that depend on this habitat community for survival, including the sharp-tailed grouse and others like the upland sandpiper, chyrxus arctic butterfly, and sand cherry.

Field of flowers on the Moquah BarrensHistorically, wildfires would have maintained wildlife habitat during dry conditions such as spring and fall and other times of the year when conditions were suitable.

Many native wildlife species have adapted to burns and thrive on the open spaces, new vegetation and flowering plants that burns create. Species like the wild turkey are also prolific nesters – they will rebuild a nest if one happens to be destroyed by a fire.

Each prescribed burn area has different management objectives to maintain the habitat. For example, some need a really hot burn to kill unwanted species or invasives from competing with the native plants that wildlife species depend on and those invasive species respond best during a spring burn. The burns are also conducted at a slow pace allowing for animals to move away from the fire. Forest Service employees take all aspects of managing the landscape into account when preparing prescribed burn plans.

For certain species of plants and animals prescribed fire may improve habitat, such as blueberries and sharp-tailed grouse who prefer open barrens.

These habitat improvements not only benefit grouse, there are several other wildlife species who favor the open barrens landscape and loose soils for burrowing. Those include the thirteen-lined ground squirrels and badgers as well as bluebirds, upland sandpipers, and brown thrashers just to name a few.

Blueberries require open areas with little to no shade to produce fruits. Prescribed burns help open up areas, removing competing vegetation which promotes higher fruit yields.

Close up of a burn at Moquah BarrensWhile you may see reduced harvest the first season after a burn, in the coming year’s blueberry bushes will be more vigorous, flower more and produce more fruits. Please click here for a Moquah Barrens Prescribed Fire History Map.

In addition to managing the Moquah Barrens, there is a broader issue at hand, and that is creating more pine barrens habitat across the Northwest Sands corridor of northern Wisconsin.  There is a multi-agency/partnership effort underway to restore suitable barrens habitat in between core management areas within the greater Northwest Sands landscape.  This is a vitally important mission so barren dependent species such as the sharp-tailed grouse, upland sandpiper, and even butterflies like the monarch, can naturally move throughout their historically occupied landscape.