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Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area grows by 1,400 acres

Map of conservation area

Nearly 1,400 acres of unique pine barrens wildlife habitat in Northwestern Wisconsin will be protected under an agreement announced this week by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The state has purchased the land for about $1 million from New Hampshire-based Lyme Timber Co. to expand the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area, which is about 40 miles south of Superior, in Burnett and Washburn counties, along the Douglas County line.

Officials will hold a dedication ceremony at the expanded wildlife area today.

The so-called pine barrens are unique, composed of sandy soil and native oak and jackpine forests that offer habitat for unique species such as sharp-tailed grouse. Once common, the wild lands slowly have been converted to other uses, such as recreation and red pine plantations, with fewer pockets of native barrens remaining.

The combined Namekagon Wildlife Area now totals more than 6,450 acres in two units.

Another barrens project, the Douglas County Wildlife Area, includes 4,000 acres between Solon Springs and Gordon.

“The research really shows that you need these big, contiguous open areas for the oak pine barrens species, like sharp-tail grouse, to thrive,” Nancy Christel, DNR wildlife biologist in Spooner, told the News Tribune. “The great thing is, if we manage for sharp-tails, we’re managing for a ton of those other species that are dependent on the same kind of habitat.”

The purchase ensures the land won’t be developed, will remain open to public uses like hunting and hiking and will be subject to periodic intentional fires to mimic the frequent wildfires that have shaped the land and its wild inhabitants for centuries.

The state partnered with the nonprofit Conservation Fund, with money coming from the Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Wal-Mart’s Acres for America program, the McKnight Foundation, Four Cedars Foundation, Lux Foundation and St. Croix River Fund via the St. Croix Valley Foundation. Several community-based groups, including the Friends of Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area and the Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, also provided financial support for the acquisition.