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A Historical Perspective and Future Outlook on Landscape Scale Restoration in the Northwest Wisconsin Pine Barrens


Address correspondence to V. C. Radeloff.


The concurrent discussions of landscape scale restoration among restoration ecologists, and of historic disturbance pattern as a guideline for forest management among forest scientists, offer a unique opportunity for collaboration between these traditionally separated fields. The objective of this study was to review the environmental history, early restoration projects, and current plans to restore landscape patterns at broader scales in the 450,000 ha northwest Wisconsin Pine Barrens. The Pine Barrens offer an example of a landscape shaped by fire in the past. In northwestern Wisconsin historically the barrens were a mosaic of open prairie, savanna, and pine forests on very poor, sandy soils. The surrounding region of better soils was otherwise heavily forested. Six restoration sites have been managed since the middle of this century using prescribed burns to maintain the open, barrens habitat. However, these sites are not extensive enough to mimic the shifting mosaic of large open patches previously created by fire. Extensive clear-cuts may be used as a substitute for these large fire patches so that presettlement landscape patterns are more closely approximated in the current landscape. We suggest that such silvicultural treatments can be suitable to restore certain aspects of presettlement landscapes, such as landscape pattern and open habitat for species such as grassland birds. We are aware that the effects of fire and clear-cuts differ in many aspects and additional management tools, such as prescribed burning after harvesting, may assist in further approximating the effect of natural disturbance. However, the restoration of landscape pattern using clear-cuts may provide an important context for smaller isolated restoration sites even without the subsequent application of fire, in this formerly more open landscape.