Altering Forest Composition in Wisconsin

Invasive species, pest and diseases, fire suppression, climate changehumanity has had quite an effect on America's forests.  Not to mention our predecessors totally clearcut most of them at least twice since arriving on the continent.  The forests we see today are more artificial than natural; they're "fake," as one US Forest Service ranger bluntly told me.  So it makes little sense to be preserving these degraded ecosystems; we should be repairing them.  This is the realization of restoration ecology, and also, I'd say, the duty of responsible and ecologically-minded landowners.

In Dane County, Wisconsin is Common Gardens, a 180-acre farm owned and operated by Mike Schumacher.  An agroecologist by training, it seems Mike manages his land for both farm productivity and ecosystem health.  One way of doing this is through altering the species composition of his outlying forests: removing harmful invasives, replacing them with natives that accommodate wildlife and biodiversity, and that can adapt to the looming environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Removing Invasive Species
Common buckthorn and Japanese honeysuckle are prolific invasives in the region.  They are fast-growing and shade-tolerant, meaning they dominate the understory and smother native plants and wildlife habitat.  Such invasives are the bane of biodiversity.  They are also rapid reproducers, sending up new shoots when threatened and resprouting from cut stems.  Energy spent controlling invasives could just as easily multiply them.  Their removal can be a constant struggle for landowners.

Mike, however, has an easier approach: "temporary placeholders" he calls them.  Mike simply leaves them alone for the time being, letting them perform their ecological functions (preventing erosion, building biomass, aerating soil) while they out-compete eachother and consolidate.  Then when he's ready to develop an area, he has fewer, larger specimens to deal with, which can more easily be cleared.  Chains and a bobcat help, like in the video below. 


The other half of the strategy is to replant cleared areas.  This helps prevent invasives from reestablishing.  This is also an ideal opportunity for Mike to manipulate the species composition of his forest.

Evergreens seem to be Mike's preference, probably to keep him company during the long, lonely winters of Wisconsin.  He had many spruces and pines planted throughout the property as of my visit (Sept./Oct. 2015) and had just received a shipment of sequoias[2], a.k.a. redwoods, one which we plant in the video below.

Black Locust[3] seedlings
Concord grapes growing wild.

[1] Common Gardens Facebook Page
[2] See more on sequoiadendron giganteum at
[3] See more on robinia pseudoacacia

For more farm visits, check out
Natural Farming in the Andes,
Top Four Cover Crops,
Green Goats with Kim Hunter, and
The Easiest Guide to Shiitake.

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