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Crossroads Cutting Back on Non-Native Conifers

Organization plans land-management class series for landowners

Crossroads at Big Creek this year is hosting a Resources for Landowners Lecture Series – eight programs aimed at connecting landowners with the tools and resources available in Door County for restoring and managing the plant communities on their land.

During the first program on the afternoon of June 20, Mike Grimm presented “Introduction to Land Management Plans and Bio-Inventories.” He discussed how to evaluate a piece of land and suggested that landowners develop clear and reasonable objectives before embarking on a restoration project.

A number of people have come to Crossroads, expressing an interest in embarking on a restoration project.

Some hope to enhance their home landscapes for birds and pollinators by reducing the size of their lawns and planting native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

Others dream of transforming their property into a native meadow or a  woodlot or even a private forest refuge, which, while a rewarding endeavor, is a serious commitment.

Restoration is complicated because every piece of property – due to geology, soil type, weather and land-use history – is unique. Restoration can be expensive. It is labor intensive. And it is on-going – certainly not a “one and done” project. 

Some practices of the past – done with the very best of intentions – have been detrimental. Take, for example, the beloved Norway spruce plantations at Crossroads, which admittedly, are majestic and beautiful.

In her book Natural Connections 2, Emily Stone, who recently spoke at Crossroads, wrote: “In its native range in Europe, fast-growing Norway spruce is a commercially important source of wood for lumber. Stradivarius used it to make instruments. Its cones were once employed as weights in grandfather and cuckoo clocks.

“In Wisconsin the ‘cutover period’, when most of our original forests were logged to build our rapidly growing country, left the land denuded.  Hopeful immigrants tried to homestead the land and found that the soils were better suited for trees than crops.”

Stone explained that to protect the soils of abandoned farms, government agencies opted “to grow non-native species in hopes that they wouldn’t be susceptible to insect and disease problems that slowed growth in native species. Scots pine, Austrian pine and Norway spruce were all given a try.”  

These trees grew fast and have thrived in Door County because it was true. These non-native species did not support insects. But ironically, insects are absolutely essential for a healthy ecosystem.

Insects, predominantly caterpillars, eat green leaves, so the energy from the Sun, captured through photosynthesis, is transferred in the form of proteins and fats, to baby birds, amphibians, even mammals and fish. Without a variety of native trees providing food for many species of insects, we would have very little wildlife.

Knowing this, we at Crossroads realized that rows of trees, all the same age, all the same specie – especially Norway spruce, a species on which few insects feed, will not support a healthy ecosystem.

Our goal is to establish a sustainable forest with a diversity of native trees and shrubs: species on which moths and butterflies lay their eggs and/or flowering trees and shrubs which provide pollen and nectar for pollinators.

Though it looks a bit brutal, we are, a few at a time, killing the Norway spruce and replacing them with insect-supporting native trees. This restoration effort reflects current scientific research.

Fortunately, this region is blessed with a number of organizations and agencies which can offer evidence-based science, lend equipment, and perhaps provide financial assistance and free seeds.

Series on Resources:

•Remaining Resources series sessions, all at 5:30 pm at Crossroads, include: ​​June 27 – Introduction to US Fish and Wildlife Partners Program and resources with Lara Fondow; July 11 – Introduction to the Natural Resource Conservation Services and their programs with Jason Barrick; July 25 – Pheasants Forever, Amy Schaefer; Aug. 8 – Door County Invasive Species Team and Door County Soil & Water with Tim Dahl; Aug. 22 – Wisconsin DNR wetlands program with Allison Willman; Sept. 5 – Local nonprofits and their projects goals and tools.

•More information is available from Crossroads (crossroadsatbigcreek.org, phone 920.746.5895) located at 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.

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