Established in 1957, the Black River State Forest encompasses approximately 68,000 acres of public land in Jackson County.
The area's geology helps make the Black River State Forest unique among the state forests. The property lies at the edge of the glaciated central plains, east of the "driftless" area of Wisconsin. Hiking to the top of Castle Mound provides views of the former bed of glacial Lake Wisconsin, as well as the unglaciated buttes, sandstone hills and castellated bluffs that dot the vast forest landscape.
The Black River State Forest offers many recreational opportunities, including camping, hunting, hiking, skiing and ATV riding. But the Department of Natural Resources also manages this property to meet a host of other objectives, including maintenance of wildlife habitat, native biological diversity, soil and water quality, aesthetics and timber production.
The Black River State Forest manages the lands in its care not just for economic benefits, like timber production, or social values, like recreation, but also for the ecological services they provide, including water and soil quality, wildlife habitat, and native biological diversity.
An important component of ecological stewardship is the protection of native species and the landscapes in which they reside. The efforts of the Black River State Forest to preserve and enhance habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly are described below.
Karner Blue Butterfly
In 1992, the Karner blue butterfly was listed as a federal endangered species. Although rare nationwide, this butterfly is relatively common in central and northwestern Wisconsin, especially where pine barrens, oak savannas, and mowed corridors support growth of wild lupine, the only food of the Karner blue caterpillar. With its sandy soils and wild lupine populations, all of the Black River State Forest falls into the Karner blue's documented range.
Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan
To protect populations of Karner blues in the state, the Wisconsin Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) was approved in September 1999. "The Wisconsin Plan," as it is often called beyond the state's borders, is nationally recognized for its innovative conservation strategies and partnering success, and is the subject of much study.
The HCP is based on a legal agreement and partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which includes the Black River State Forest. In addition, 40 other public and private land managers are HCP partners. These partners have agreed to modify their management activities to enhance habitat conservation and minimize negative impacts on the butterfly.
The Black River State Forest and the Karner Blue
The Black River State Forest surveys all proposed timber sale areas that include Karner blue habitat or are likely to support lupine and/or butterfly populations. If a surveyed area contains lupine and Karner blues, forest managers design the sale to avoid old log landings and openings along logging roads. The dense lupine patches in these openings provide a safe place for the butterflies to live until the harvest opens the forest floor to sunlight and new lupine habitat springs up for Karner blues to colonize.
In addition, timber harvests are often planned for the winter months when snow cover protects the butterflies in their dormant egg phase.
The forest has also undertaken a project to create habitat for the butterfly. In the fall of 1994, 38 acres of oak and jack pine on the forest were clearcut. The following summer (1995), the site was prepared for the planting of lupine seed, and 20 acres were hand-planted with lupine in the fall.
The following year (1996), lupine plants were observed during the growing season. When monitoring of Karner blues began in the summer 2002, the butterfly was present in the site. Annual monitoring since then has shown that Karner blues continue to use this site, with slight increases in numbers.
The Importance of Protecting the Karner Blue
By protecting the Karner blue butterfly, the Black River State Forest and its HCP partners are also protecting the globally imperiled barrens ecosystem. Many other rare species depend on this system, including the Kirtland's warbler, slender glass lizard, eastern massasauga rattlesnake, wood turtle, yellow gentian, and Hill's thistle. Maintaining stable, resilient ecosystems with significant biological diversity is a key part of sustainable forest management.
Black River State Forest, 910 Hwy 54 East, Black River, WI 54615