Earth Partnership for Schools


General Characteristics of Northern Dry and Dry Mesic Forests

Distribution: Northern dry and dry-mesic forests originally covered an estimated area of 2,269,400 acres, or 6.48% total land surface of Wisconsin. These forests grow in all sections of the northern region and as relic stands in southern Wisconsin.

Lumberjacks began harvesting giant white pines from these forests in 1845. White pines were abundant and scattered all over the north woods, many of them 400 years old, dating from widespread fires in the 1400's. Timber cruisers traveled through the forests on canoe or foot marking stands of timber. Timber companies purchased the land for $1 to $2 per acre. Records from early lumber camps indicate amazing yields. By 1899, 3.4 billion board feet were produced per year. (A board foot is 12" long, 12" wide, and 1" thick.) By the 1930's, unrestrained harvesting was over. In 1932, only 0.3 billion-board feet were produced. John Curtis estimated Wisconsin produced $10 billion (in 1959 prices) worth of lumber. At 1997 prices, the value of the lumber is $55 billion. Today, it is difficult to imagine the "actual magnitude and majesty of a mature pine forest," writes Curtis, "and this should be kept in mind when interpreting contemporary findings."

Physical Environment: Dry and dry-mesic forest communities grow on glacial outwash sands and glacial sandy lakebeds or on the banks of most lakes and streams. Southern relic stands occur on sandstone cliffs of the Driftless area
Microclimate: Excessive water drainage and low storage capacity of the soil create droughty growing conditions. The open canopy of northern dry and dry-mesic forests allows sunshine through to the forest floor, which increases evaporation and aridity. As the forest matures, general moisture and humidity increase.