Giant White Pine Grove SNA, Wisconsin    Don Bragg
   Sep 17, 2005 08:16 PDT 


Continuing with the reports from my most recent trip up north, on
Tuesday, September 6, my father and son accompanied me to the Headwaters
Wilderness of the Nicolet National Forest in extreme western Forest
County, not far from Three Lakes, Wisconsin (and the Argonne
Experimental Forest, if you are familiar with this location). Unlike
Sylvania, most of the Headwaters Wilderness was assembled from the
cutover landscapes of northern Wisconsin, with only scattered tracts of
old-growth forest.

One of these tracts has been further designated as a natural area called
"Giant White Pine Grove State Natural Area"
( Located on
some of the gently rolling, rocky till of the Northwoods, the Giant
White Pine Grove represents a rather unique combination of natural and
human history. This pine-dominated remnant is in an area that was
logged rather late in the big cut-over of the late 19th and early 20th
century. In this general region, the Thunder Lake Lumber Company had
pushed narrow-gauge railroads in the 1920s and 1930s to cut primarily
hardwoods and conifer pulpwood. Their lands had only limited quantities
of eastern white pine, and few mills had remained open to saw the pine,
so their hardwood focus may have in part spared some of the scattered
virgin pine in this area. That is not to say pine wasn't logged when
encountered--old pine stumps on the fringe of this stand say otherwise.
Rather, I suspect Thunder Lake Lumber Company just wasn't as motivated
to cut every possible stick of pine.

The Thunder Lake Lumber Company proceeded to sell the Forest Service
much of its cut-over land during the late 1920s and 1930s, and finally
ceased operation just before the beginning of WWII. The Forest Service
eventually established the Headwaters Wilderness area in this cut-over
landscape, thereby ensuring the preservation of this stand, and several
other old-growth parcels in the immediate area.

Most of the uplands of the Headwaters Wilderness are northern hardwoods,
dominated by 60-80 year old sugar maple, with lesser quantities of
yellow birch, red maple, eastern hemlock, balsam fir and a few white
spruce. The stands are largely even-aged, with a handful of cull old
trees (perhaps 150 or more years old) left from the big cut. Scattered
pockets of almost pure eastern hemlock with supercanopy white pine (some
old-growth) also remain in the area (including a nearby natural area).
Giant White Pine Grove includes a few score supercanopy white pine, of
which approximately 1/4 to 1/3 have died in recent years due to
windthrow and disease. Scattered old-growth hemlock groves also
surround the white pine grove, and a handful of older hardwoods are
present, but the stand is definitely dominated by the white pine and a
few old-growth red pine:

GIANT PINE GROVE DBH (in.) CBH (ft.) SineHT (ft.)
e. white pine 39.2    10.3     100.8 to live top, 113.4 to dead top
e. white pine 33.6    8.8     110.8
e. white pine 35.6    9.3     128.9
eastern hemlock 29.6    7.7     (no clear shot)
e. white pine 35.3    9.2     124.0
e. white pine 34.3    9.0     116.4
white spruce 19.8    5.2     91.5
e. white pine 36.0    9.4     119.2
e. white pine 38.8    10.2     104.2
red maple    23.2    6.1     83.7
e. white pine 43.6    11.4     105.5 (lower than true ht--no good view)
e. white pine 33.6    8.8     128.7
red pine     28.7    7.5     106.7
red pine     26.8    7.0     102.6
red pine     29.1    7.6     95.4
e. white pine 40.5    10.6     125.3
e. white pine 40.1    10.5     114.6
sugar maple 26.3    6.9     78.0
e. white pine 38.7    10.1     110.2 (to broken top)
red pine     26.5    6.9     123.0
yellow birch 29.3    7.7     77.0

The red pine, although rare (I think these were the only 4) were pretty
impressive for this species in this part of the world. As with
Katherine lake, most of the maple, hemlock, and yellow birch in this
location were not particularly large (20 to 30 inches DBH, 80-90 ft
tall). There is also a pocket of old-growth hemlock-white pine at the
trailhead of the path leading to the Giant Pine Grove:

TRAILHEAD     DBH (in.) CBH (ft.) SineHT (ft.)
e. white pine 36.1    9.5     (no good view)
e. white pine 36.3    9.5     (top broken @ ~ 80 ft)
e. white pine 41.5    10.9     (top broken @ ~ 100 ft)
pin cherry     7.4    1.9     50.0
A. basswood 20.3    5.3     ~ 70 ft

Most of the big diameter pines had their tops broken by wind, which was
also common in the Giant Pine Grove. Given these trees repeated
exposure to derechoes (especially since they tower above the adjacent
conifer swamp), this did not surprise me at all. The American basswood
was a second-growth tree that I grabbed for a little diversity--nothing
special about it, and it is not even large for the basswood of this
region. The pin cherry was about as big as they get in this area.

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera on this jaunt, but the lighting
conditions weren't good anyhow. This stand is easy to reach and a
pleasant hike if the bugs aren't bad. There are a number of other
pockets of old-growth preserved on the public lands of this relatively
developed vacation-oriented landscape, so I look forward to future trips

Don Bragg

Don Bragg, Ph.D.
Research forester