Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway seeks input on land management

Proposal would expand the use of prescribed fire and start restoration of pine plantations.

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NPS crew conducts a prescribed burn at Rice Lake Flats within St. Croix Riverway boundary near Somerset, WI. (Photo by Jean VanTatenhove, Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway)

Fire historically helped maintain biological balance in the prairies and forests surrounding the St. Croix River. It kept many areas from being forested, and promoted plant species that not only tolerated occasional blazes, but depended on them to survive.

Much of it was set by the Dakota people to improve travel routes, hunting grounds, or settlements. When European immigrants started farming here, fire disappeared. Starting in 2005, the National Park Service picked up the torch and started setting fires for ecological purposes.

Each spring, prescribed burns along the river promote native plants and healthy lands. Since then, the agency found more places that could benefit from fire and other ways of restoring natural systems. A new proposal seeks to include additional areas in restoration, guide management strategy for the next 10-15 years, and address some emerging challenges.

The Park Service has identified almost 1,000 acres it considers high priority for prescribed fire, from jackpine barren restoration at the aptly-named Firehill project along the far upper reaches of the St. Croix, to Arcola Bluffs near Stillwater, restoring prairie and oak savanna and suppressing invasive species.

The proposal also lays out plans to address pine plantations. Unlike fire, the thick stands of red pines in neat rows are not a natural part of the ecosystem, and hurt wildlife habitat and the land’s overall health. Little else grows in such forests, and the trees are susceptible to disease. The Park Service’s proposal includes plans to begin removing trees from the more than 20 pine plantations on its lands.

All but two the plantations identified as high priority are on the upper Namekagon River. The other two are on the St. Croix – one at Nevers Dam and one in St. Croix County.

The proposal is open for public comment until April 30. View the plan and comment at this link.


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2 responses to “Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway seeks input on land management”

  1. Joe Weum Avatar
    Joe Weum

    I’m all in favor. I was a ranger on the riverway in the 70’s and I don’t recognize some places now. Example: sand rock cliffs (Grantsburg),bluff and old farm on east bank of river(Marine on St Croix) the latter was a “goat prairie”.

  2. Russell B. Hanson Avatar
    Russell B. Hanson

    I often wonder at the thinking of the management folks. Just up the river from Never’s dam, along the River Road in managed river land is an open area — across from the Riverside Auto, that was planted into a new pine plantation just two years ago or so. And just down the river is a mature pine plantation that may be removed to make a prairie. So planting trees in an open area and removing from another nearby spot to make it into a prairie seems about as strange as one could imagine and gives rise to the usual scoffing of how inconsistency is the only consistent part of the process.
    So why not have two management areas — one that shows the dearth of wildlife habitat in a small red pine existing plantation and the other that is managed for prairie so we can see the difference in areas right next to each other.
    The two areas are between Nevers and Wolf Creek, both about the same distance back from the river. Sometimes the problem is between Federal, state and local govt management not coordinating their efforts. Each group seems intent on intensive management for different goals. When the Federal group took over the Never’s Dam area, it was really almost a state-park like area; open, groomed, and with many remains of the historic Never’s dam settlement. Local folks were sure that it would be turned into a park and maybe the headquarters for the management. Instead, it was closed off and let to grow up to brush with a tiny access point to the river, while the management folks hunkered down in St Croix Falls in an old motel.

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Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway seeks input on land management