Division of Forestry News

A Legacy Of Tree Planting

Near Boscobel, the Wilson State Forest Nursery was a beehive of activity through the month of April. Walking row after row of small trees, behind a harvesting machine, crew members carefully lifted seedlings from soil so as to not damage roots. Overseeing the operation is Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Reforestation Team Leader Joe Vande Hey.

“We’re looking at about three-and-a-half million trees this year,” he says proudly. “We sold just about everything we have, and I’m anticipating sales to increase probably to the five-million range over the next couple of years.”

Wisconsin’s Reforestation Program grows high-quality, reasonably priced, native-tree seedlings and shrubs to plant on private and public lands for conservation. It has a rich history dating back to 1911 when the state’s first tree nursery was planted. Over the decades, 1.6 billion seedlings have been supplied to landowners.

Vande Hey says Wisconsin’s pledge to plant 75 million trees by 2030 is part of the reason he has a positive outlook for growth over the next couple of years. “It’s definitely putting an emphasis back on tree planting. It sparks interest and that’s going to mean an increase in sales.”

Providing future forest products, improving wildlife habitat, preventing soil erosion are all motivating the effort, but now more so than ever, there’s a focus on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as outlined in Wisconsin’s Statewide Forest Action Plan.

As it turns out, carbon sequestration and carbon storage are two things our forests do very well. Protecting the planet by fighting climate change is a cause that continues to grow in popularity.

Vande Hey explained, “Trees tie up carbon, so the more forested land we have, the more carbon we can capture. Private landowners definitely see the benefit and want to be recognized for helping plant trees.”

He says 60 to 70% of stock grown in state nurseries is being shipped to private forest landowners, such as the FitzRandolph family featured in this video.

The nursery sells 30 to 40 different species, a mix of hardwoods, conifers, and shrubs: generally red, white and jack pines, white spruce, oaks and maples.

Emerald ash borer is causing “a pretty good shift” for orders to some areas, Vande Hey said, with alternative species like white oak, red maple, tamarack and cedar going to areas where ash trees once flourished. More species changes are on the horizon, not because of emerald ash borer, but due to global warming.

“We’re starting to play with species typically found only in southern Wisconsin, trees we historically didn’t grow a lot of that might be planted in other areas of the state, or even species that historically don’t come into Wisconsin,” Vande Hey said. “Trees native to Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, where it’s a bit warmer.”

Whatever the species, the seedlings will be planted to regenerate acreage where trees have been harvested or going into the ground where forests have been absent.

“Some forest landowners are planting through the Conservation Reserve Program – taking crop ground that is highly erodible and putting it into more permanent cover. There are a good number of seedlings being planted under hardwoods, particularly in southern Wisconsin where they’re not getting the natural oak regeneration that they desire.”

Wherever seedlings are headed, he says Wisconsin’s reforestation program has the capacity to meet increased demands, now motivated to a large extent by climate change.

Planting Trees To Help The Environment

Many Wisconsinites recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day by planting trees. On Madison’s near west side, Julie Ballweg and her children marked the holiday by adding a couple of sugar maples to their yard.

“We’ve got some older trees. Looking to the future, they won’t be around forever, so we’ll be planting something that will grow in the shade of them. And once they’re gone there will be something to take their place,” explained Ballweg.

With soaring gas and grocery prices, a devastating war and a lingering virus, many are looking for some good news, a reason for hope, and Ballweg says we have it right here in the Badger State, with at least some cautious optimism on one global front: climate change.

“There are a lot of collaborative projects going on right now, perhaps more than we’ve ever seen, and I feel pretty optimistic,” she said.

Being a good mother is not Ballweg’s only job. She is also the Forestry Climate Change Policy Advisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Ballweg is a member of an impressive team of scientists and subject-matter experts, all of whom are sharing expertise and developing strategies on two fronts: helping Wisconsin’s forests adapt to the changing conditions and using the forests to address climate change.

Their work is guided by the climate goals and strategies in Wisconsin’s Statewide Forest Action Plan and Governor Evers’s Task Force on Climate Change Report, along with the work of think tanks like the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, and the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) – formed in 2007 by the DNR and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies to generate and share information that can foster solutions to climate change in Wisconsin. WICCI’s 2021 assessment report, “Wisconsin’s Changing Climate,” provides a comprehensive assessment of past and future climate change and its impacts in Wisconsin.

“We have a history of managing some really beautiful forests here in Wisconsin, so I think it’s a bit of rethinking how we do it in the face of climate change, and I think the DNR’s role is pretty applied in all of that, taking the research and translating that, how we can use it to help landowners, and help foresters,” said Ballweg.

There’s a lot on the team’s plate.

Increasing carbon dioxide emissions are fueling greenhouse gases that are warming our state. Scientists project our temperature will rise four to nine degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century, with northern Wisconsin’s forest temperatures going up the most. Their research has already shown the thermometer up two degrees since 1950, with precipitation increasing by 4.5 inches.

However, numbers are not uniform. For instance, southern and central areas of the state have seen snow and rain go up 20% over annual averages, while the Northwoods has not. Experts are studying snowpack, frozen ground, length of growing seasons, the frequency and intensity of storms, flooding, wildfires and the potential for increased numbers of invasive species or pests like mosquitos and ticks. The bottom line: you can’t have just one climate-change roadmap when planning for Wisconsin’s future. A mitigation strategy for one part of Wisconsin might look completely different in another.

It can sound overwhelming, but we’re not reinventing the wheel. The DNR and its partners have been sustainably managing trees for a long time, and with 17 million acres of forests, we have a lot of climate-change fighting assets. Forests take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make energy through photosynthesis. The energy helps them grow, and as they do, they capture carbon in their wood, roots, leaves and in the soil below. All of this forms the basis for Ballweg’s optimism.

The State of Wisconsin pledge to plant 75 million new trees by 2030 as part of the global trillion trees initiative and the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change makes her outlook on our forest future even more positive.

If you plan on joining the tree-planting movement, Ballweg suggests taking a look at i-Tree. “It’s a free tool, and there’s a calculator on i-Tree that can tell you how much carbon the trees you have on your lawn are capturing. There’s also an economic calculator so you can determine not just carbon, but the amount of shade each tree offers, and how much that shade can reduce your cooling bill in the summer,” she explained.

As for Ballweg and her children, they have several good reasons for choosing sugar maples. They provide nice canopies, of course. Lovely fall colors, you bet. But someday tapping sap for maple syrup to pour over Saturday morning pancakes made the sugar maples just the right pick for their family.

Forest Appreciation Week: Saluting Trees From Seedlings to Seniors

Governor Evers has declared this as Forest Appreciation Week in Wisconsin.  Bookended by Earth Day and Arbor Day, Forest Appreciation Week celebrates Wisconsin’s 17-million acre forest resource and the bountiful ecological, economic, social and cultural values it provides every day.  This week’s celebration encompasses all ages of trees, from seedlings to seniors!

Wisconsin has a long history of planting trees and the DNR’s reforestation program is proud to have supplied more than 1.6 billion tree seedlings planted in Wisconsin since 1913.  And, for the past 40 years, DNR has provided tree seedlings to fourth-grade students throughout Wisconsin for their Arbor Day celebrations. 

While the purpose of tree planting in the early 1900s was to reforest the cutover forestland, today’s tree planting focus is on using trees as a tool to mitigate climate change. In fact, the state of Wisconsin pledged in 2021 to work with public, private and non-governmental partners to plant 75 million trees by the end of 2030 and to conserve 125,000 acres of forest land.

This week’s celebration also includes the introduction of the revitalized champion tree program.  This program, started in 1941, recognizes and celebrates the largest of each tree species in Wisconsin.

Join the celebration as you enjoy and honor Wisconsin’s urban and rural forests.

Celebrating Wisconsin’s Champion Trees

By Joel DeSpain, Division of Forestry Communications Specialist

“Each of us from birth to death is intimately connected with trees. On their beauty and longevity we hang our memories and beliefs, trusting trees to be symbols of our achievements and things we hold dear,” wrote renowned Wisconsin arborist, R. Bruce Allison, in his wonderful book Every Root an Anchor, Wisconsin’s Famous and Historic Trees. 

Wisconsin is abundant with rich forests, many of them urban, and as Allison notes, we develop deep connections with individual trees, some of which are the largest of their species in the state.

Here at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), we’ve been relying on community members to help us find and measure these giants since 1941 as we celebrate and recognize our largest trees through our Champion Tree Program.

This is an ongoing search, and we are actively seeking additional nominations – to document the winners and share them on our website via a recently launched interactive map that provides photos, information, and locations of the champs.

Champion Black Tupelo (located in the UW-Madison arboretum)

Some have been discovered deep in the Northwoods, such as our prize-winning, 108-foot sugar maple located in Forest County on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The sugar maple has been a Wisconsinite favorite dating back to 1893 when school children first selected it as our state tree, loved for its brilliant orange and red autumn colors and the delicious maple syrup derived from its sap.

You can find other champions in people’s yards or beautifying city streets. So loved is Wisconsin’s champion, 92-foot tall Northern Catalpa on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus that faculty and students banded together with tree experts to save it following summer storm damage last year. With its white, trumpet-shaped flowers, giant heart-shaped leaves and dangling bean-like seed pods, the Northern Catalpa is a showy beauty of mammoth proportions.

Several grandiose winners have borne witness to colorful histories, like our 108-foot Eastern Cottonwood Champion which sits next to Door County’s reportedly haunted Interstate Saloon, built in 1895.

More record-holders were planted in cemeteries in memory of loved ones, some of whom served in the Civil War. In Waukesha County, a massive, majestic burr oak dates to pre-Revolutionary War times.

No doubt, champs are all over the Wisconsin landscape. It would take quite the road trip to visit them all, and we firmly believe there are more out there, like buried treasure, undiscovered, each with a story to tell. We would love to find and document each one, even if it means dethroning a current champion.

We can’t do it alone. The program has endured because everyday people have been keeping an eye out for more than 80 years, ever since the program launched. So, without further ado, we invite you to honor and preserve Wisconsin’s natural resources heritage. Good luck finding the next champ, and remember, the search can be very relaxing and fun!

What’s Your Seedling Story?

By Lauren Peterson, Reforestation Communication Specialist, Division of Forestry

What’s the most sentimental space in your home? For many families with kids, it’s often a wall or a doorframe used as a tried-and-true method of tracking growth. This little corner of the house is filled with chicken scratched names, jumps in ages, even greater leaps in height, and happy memories of the past. However, for some Wisconsin families, a measurement of years gone by grows just outside the window.

For 40 years now, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has encouraged all fourth-grade students to take part in planting a free tree seedling, distributed by the Division of Forestry’s reforestation program. Fourth-grade teachers and homeschool parents are eligible to submit their orders for seedlings from winter through early spring in order to receive their shipment by Arbor Day.

It’s hard not to get sentimental thinking about tiny kids planting tiny seedlings, right? After an arduous journey of bouncing around in backpacks and being forgotten at bus stops, with branches abused but mostly intact, these seedlings found their forever homes outside those windows. Throughout the years, these seedlings have mirrored the growth of the tiny hands that first placed them in the soil.

Much like the seedlings and the fourth-grade students, this initiative to get future generations excited about forestry has grown each year to become a tradition unlike any other. Introduced in 1982, the project really hit its stride in 1984. Within the last decade, the DNR has supplied an average of more than 38,000 seedlings annually with a high of 45,857 seedlings shipped out in 2021. DNR’s reforestation team estimates that around 350,608 seedlings have been sent out to fourth graders across the state in the last ten years.

Conifer seedlings growing at the Wisconsin DNR nursery in Boscobel, WI

Seedlings are often a species of pine, distributed with an educational brochure to assist in planting and a plastic bag to ensure backpacks stay clean. Conifers, specifically pine, are commonly used for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it is relatively easy for children under supervision to plant. These little pines are green in early spring and grow well throughout the state on a variety of soils. Finally, nurseries often have a large quantity of pine from year to year in the quantities needed to distribute thousands across the state.

That said, on the 100th anniversary of the Wisconsin state nursery program in 2011, the nurseries celebrated by providing sugar maple seedlings instead. Sugar maple was selected as the state tree of Wisconsin in 1983 and the nursery program felt it was appropriate to use that seedling for their centennial anniversary.

This Arbor Day we celebrate not only the holiday, but the countless people who made this seedling project grow to what it is today and the children it has impacted. Through four decades of this endeavor, the DNR has had the support of countless teachers, principals, parents, volunteers and employees. For many fourth-graders, planting their seedling has been a fun springtime activity and watching it grow throughout the years is a memory to be proud of. To others, it sparked a fascination with forestry, natural resources, conservation, or science. After 40 years, one thing is still true; this was never just about planting seedlings.

Do you have a memory about planting an Arbor Day seedling? We welcome your stories and photos at Forestry.Webmail@Wisconsin.gov.

Forests And Fire: If You Love The Outdoors, This Is The Career For You!

Have you ever thought about getting paid to help protect and manage our forests? Finding your path to becoming a forester with wildland firefighting responsibilities starts with loving the outdoors and, of course, TREES! If this field interests you, it’s never too early to start planning your career.

Besides knowing about trees and forestry practices, you need to learn about other parts of the forest ecosystem. We wouldn’t have trees without soil, so some foresters study soil science. And we wouldn’t have soil without rocks and wind and rain and ice, so some study geology and meteorology. And we wouldn’t have big bucks if it weren’t for properly managed forests, so knowing about birds, insects and all kinds of animals is also important for foresters.

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Did You Know These Things About Fire Season?

Spring Is The Most Critical Fire Season In Wisconsin

March through May, Wisconsin’s snow line recedes, winds and temperature increase and plentiful brown grasses, pine needles and leaf litter receptive to fire across the landscape. This combination is the perfect cocktail for wildfires to occur. Add people conducting spring clean-up around their property by burning yard debris to the mix, resulting in many wildfires. 

Planning For The Weather

For most of us, planning for the weather on any day may mean dressing in layers or carrying an umbrella. Measuring the width of the brown band on a woolly bear caterpillar is considered by some to be more reliable than the TV meteorologist.

Planning for the weather takes on a whole new meaning for the men and women involved in wildfire management. They measure various aspects of weather to help determine the likelihood of a wildfire starting and predict how it will behave.

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Know Your Wildfire Risk

Research shows that both homes and their immediate surroundings play a critical role in a home surviving a wildfire. Your home’s building materials, design and landscape choices can increase risks of your home igniting during a wildfire. If a wildfire burns near your home, its intensity can be reduced or even stopped if “fuel” on your property is managed.

To prepare your home and the area around your home,  start with the house and then move into the landscaping. The “home ignition zone” is your home and surroundings out 100-200 feet. Often, a person’s home ignition zone overlaps with their neighbor’s property. In those cases, it’s important to work together to reduce the shared wildfire risk.

Consider these wildfire risk reduction home and landscape guidelines to reduce or change the fuels in your home ignition zone.

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Fire: Keep It Safe – Keep It Clean

State regulations allow individual households to burn small amounts of dry, household rubbish which includes only unrecyclable paper and cardboard, natural fibers, clean, untreated wood and similar materials, and small quantities of dry leaves and plant clippings unless prohibited by local ordinance.

However, fire officials caution that the open burning of many materials produce a variety of air pollutants that is unhealthy for your or your neighbors to inhale. In addition, debris burning is the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin, accounting for nearly 30% of the state’s wildfires each year.

If burning is the only option for yard waste, burning permits may be required to burn yard debris piles or for broadcast burning any time the ground is not entirely snow-covered. Permits ensure legal and responsible burning with minimal wildfire risk.

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Will A Fire Truck Fit Down Your Driveway?

In the event of a wildfire in your area, firefighters may need to reach your home. If firefighters cannot safely access your home, they will find an alternative way to get to you that may take longer – and when fighting fire, every second counts.

Help Firefighters Reach You

You are the first line of defense when it comes to helping your home survive a wildfire. To enable firefighters and other emergency vehicles to locate and reach your residence quickly it’s important to establish a safe route with adequate driveway access.

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