Recently I picked up a copy of Our Living Ancestors by John Bates. It’s subtitled The History and Ecology of Old-growth Forests in Wisconsin and Where to Find Them. It’s fascinating and sad at the same time, but the best resource I’ve found so far that can help me experience these forests before they completely disappear. Even before buying it, I had the Van Vliet Hemlocks SNA on my list of places to visit. (Yes, there really is a list and one for places to paddle, too, but that’s another post.)
This SNA is one that has a well-developed and relatively extensive trail system so is also popular despite being fairly remote. When I arrived there were several cars already parked in the small lot. Luckily there was room on the side of the road and when I left, everyone was gone so I had no problem using the lot to turn around.
Located in Vilas county, the preserve is just over 400 acres and well signed and blazed. One section (loop) of trail was closed when I went so I didn’t see all of it, but darn near. Despite so many cars in the lot, I didn’t see anyone. Mostly because I went off trail to avoid some, but that’s another story.
I stuck to the trails that were open and for the most part had a good day. The mosquitoes were still pretty relentless though and that diminished my enthusiasm somewhat. Without those I’d like to have explored some of the boggy areas of the preserve. The DNR says there are “undisturbed black ash/cedar swamps in kettle depressions”. I love a good cedar swamp.
Speaking of cedar, look at this amazing example –
It was easily 2 feet across at the base. One of the largest cedars I’ve ever seen. Old growth for sure. From reading the book above and going on a guided forest walk with a DNR forester (more on that in a future post!), I’ve learned just how serious Wisconsin is about its biggest crop – lumber. Most trees are valued not by their role in a functioning ecosystem, but their role in a functioning economy. I know it has to be, but it hurts just the same that so much “nature” is so intensely managed. Humans have always done so, but we moderns have such a heavy hand with it. Definitely not live and let live.
But I won’t get all negative and weepy on you. I can’t change things, I can only enjoy what we have left. And photograph it. These next three mushrooms are all new for me. I find this happens most often in “old growth” forests where fungi species are allowed to gain a foothold. When the mycelium layer in the soil is disrupted by tree harvesting, fungi suffers and now we know plants suffer, too. Mycorrhizal fungi is a factor for nutrient uptake in the root systems of many plants, including tree seed- and saplings. The first is a type of chanterelle (Glomphus floccosus) –
I used the 6K mode of capture for that one and think that’s how that technique shows best. In a small scene. I tried it with some of the landscapes above and prefer the single frame RAW file. Especially with background items – they were sharper. But back to ‘shrooms. I wish I turned this next one over (but I never disturb the fungi I shoot) because it is a toothed fungus. So cool. Pseudohydnum gelatinosum.
As you can see on the one above (Hericium coralloides) – it’s fruiting on a tree that has been cut. Not sure if it was to clear the path like the photo further up, but the fallen tree resulted in what is called a nurse log. A decomposing tree that serves as food, shelter and eventually will become more soil. It’s said that a hemlock tree takes hundreds of years to decompose. Over that time thousands, if not millions of tiny lives will be possible because of it.
It’s that cycle that keeps a forest healthy and functioning. Aggressive harvest curtails long functions that we might not appreciate given our short life-spans. Forests, if you count them as a single living organism, can afford to lose trees now and again, sometimes by surprise and in single, sweeping events, but relentless culling and harvest is a disturbance that probably has more ill effects than we can easily perceive. We do our best sometimes, but I still wonder what it would be like without us.
But I still love it there, managed or not.
I plan to visit more old growth forests in future now that I have a great reference for where to find them. Most are in the northern part of the state so reasonably close. Woo hoo!