A dense green forest with ferns covering the forest floor.

Fighting Back Against Forest Fragmentation in the Northwoods: Headwaters Cedar Community Forest

Northwood Alliance leads the charge in keeping northern Wisconsin’s forests intact and publicly accessible.

Northwood Alliance’s history of environmental activism dates back to 1980’s when its very creation was in opposition to the placement of a nuclear waste depository here in the Midwest. Since then, Northwood Alliance has grown into a fierce advocate for land protection in the Border Lakes region and the Lake Superior watershed. 

The 200-acre Headwaters Cedar Community Forest lies just west of Land O’ Lakes WI at the subcontinental watershed divide: On one side, water flows north through the Ontonogan River to Lake Superior, while on the other, it journeys south to the Mississippi River. The forest is a rich habitat for birds, bobcats, black bears, and other wildlife and it expands a critical wildlife corridor from the surrounding Northern Highland State Forest into the Ottawa National Forest.

Northwood Alliance’s founder Joe Hovel had been working to protect this forest for decades, but the journey has not been an easy one. “It’s been ravaged by fragmentation and development,” he said. Forest fragmentation is a growing threat, occurring when large, unbroken tracts of forestland are divided into smaller pieces and sold off. This creates a patchwork of land management styles that often conflict with one another, disrupting the natural flow of plants, animals and water, harming biodiversity, and weakening the overall health of the forest. The Headwaters Cedar Community Forest tackles fragmentation head-on by keeping this large parcel intact and stitching it into the existing forested landscape.

This project marks Vilas County’s first Community Forest and complements Northwood Alliances’s nearby Wildcat Falls Community Forest. The nonprofit organization was awarded a highly coveted $200,000 grant from the US Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program to help fund the purchase, in addition to a $215,000 matching grant from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and an outpouring of community support.

The Headwaters Cedar Community Forest shines a light on the bright future of Wisconsin’s Northwoods and stands as a testament to the tireless efforts of its conservation advocates. Through its permanent protection, the Headwaters Cedar Community Forest will continue to safeguard clean water, provide critical habitat for rare plants & wildlife, and foster a connection with nature through education and outdoor recreation for generations to come.

Featured photos from Joe Hovel, Northwood Alliance.

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