Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

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The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) is a large forest system which covers around 1.5 million acres of boreal woodland in northern Wisconsin. The forests themselves are a mix of a variety of hardwoods, softwoods, and conifers. The land itself was shaped by glaciers during the ice age. Many other types of habitat are found within the CNNF system, including glacial lakes, wetlands, meadows, and pine savannas. These habitats are then home to a wide range of animals. White-tailed deer, black bears, beaver, and wild turkey are just some of the more common animals found here. Many types of sports fish are found within the numerous streams, rivers, and other bodies of water located inside the National Forest. Some reintroduced animals to these forests include elk and timber wolves. [1]

An entrance sign for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

National Forests

The CNNF is comprised of two individual National Forests, the Chequamegon National Forest and the Nicolet National Forest. Both have individual headquarters for their area but are managed together as a single National Forest. The two forests were combined in 1993 after being established in 1933. [2]

Map overview of the forest. The Nicolet National Forest is on the Eastern half and the Chequamegon National Forest is on the Western half. Source: U.S. Forest Service - USDA

Chequamegon National Forest

The Chequamegon National Forest, the western half of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, is divided into 3 units of forest which together cover 858,400 acres. Together, these forest units spread out across six counties, including Ashland, Bayfield, Sawyer, Price, Taylor, and Vilas county. The headquarters for this national forest is located at Park Falls. The name Chequamegon (pronounced SHO-WAH-MA-GON) is derived from the Ojibwa word for "place of shallow water". [3] [4]

Nicolet National Forest

The Nicolet National Forest accounts for the eastern half of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It covers 661,400 acres of continuous land spanning Florence, Forest, Langlade, Oconto, Oneida, and Vilas county. The headquarters for this national forest is located at Rhinelander. The name for this forest comes from the French explorer Jean Nicolet, who visited the region in the 1600s [5]. One event that takes place here is the Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey, which is “the longest running volunteer bird monitoring program in a U.S. national forest.” More information can be found on the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay website through the link in the reference section below [6].


Early History

The cultural history of this region can be traced back as far as 10,000 years ago. Europeans arrived in Wisconsin and the northern forests during the 1600s. At the time, fur trading was established with the Native Americans who lived in the area at the time. Loggers followed the fur traders and the timber industry was established. Early in the logging operation, pine trees were cut in winter and dragged to the banks of rivers. These waterways were used to transport harvested timber to sawmills farther south. With the forests being cleared from the closest waterways coinciding with improvements to railroads, lumbermen proceeded further into the forest and continued operations outside the winter season[7]. Lumber operations reached their peak in the 1920s. The cleared land left in the wake of lumber operations was sold over to immigrants as farms and homesteads. The soils however proved to be ill-suited for farming and many of these residences were abandoned by the families who lived on them. These heavily harvested areas were also prone to uncontrolled blazes, with some of the worst occurring during the 50 years after 1870. The Peshtigo Fire was one such firestorm. [8]

Establishment & Use

The Federal Government started buying up the abandoned and tax delinquent lands in 1928 under the authority of the Weeks Law of 1911. Some land purchased also came from State and local governments, timber companies, and even private properties. The plan was to establish a national forest on these lands. Two national forests were established on the degraded land under presidential proclamation in 1933. The Nicolet National Forest was established on March of 1933 by President Hoover, and the Chequamegon was established by President Roosevelt in November of 1933. Since their creation, the forests have made a comeback thanks to reforestation efforts that took place during the Great Depression. At the time, the Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC) was established to offer jobs to unemployed men. The CCC was in operation for only 10 years, but during that time the men who were a part of the operation planted thousands of acres of pine trees, built fire lanes, and created recreational facilities across the forest. During the 1990s the two individual national forests were combined into the single unit we now have today. While the forests were first combined in 1993 they were not officially recognized as such until 1998. [9] [10]

Current Operations



Over 47 developed cabins and campgrounds are located within the forest system. Many of these sites are located along lakes, rivers, and streams which provide people the chance to either take part in water activities or fishing. Less-developed campsites are also available for individuals who would like a more tranquil getaway. [11] [12]

One of the many landscapes found within the National Forest. Source: [1]


Boating can be done in either motorized or non-motorized craft. Sites vary but the majority of launch points are located near campground sites. There are a few wilderness areas where non-motorized craft can be used to relax on the water and observe wildlife which live near the waterways. Additionally, water skiing and swimming are also permitted at select campground areas. [13]


There is a wide assortment of trails available for recreational purposes; including hiking, backpacking, horse-back riding, and bicycling. Activities available change with the seasons, such as hiking and ATV rides during the warmer months transitioning to snowshoeing and snowmobiling in the winter months [14]. Among the trails traversing the forest include sections of the Ice Age Trail and the Franklin Lake trail. [15]

Overview of the National Forest in autumn.

Within the northern section of the CNNF is a 61-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail. This section of trail starts at County Highway “A” and extends to FR 390. Hiking and backpacking are the primary form of travel along this trail. Cross country skiing and dog sledding are only possible under specific winter conditions. Horse riding, mountain bikes, and motorized vehicles are discouraged and/or prohibited. [16]

Hunting & Fishing

The national forest is a hunter’s paradise, offering a wide variety of both large and small game. Hunting trails are available for hunters to use while simultaneously enhancing wildlife habitat for select species of animal. Black bear, white-tailed deer, ducks, and ruffed grouse are some of the animals that can be hunted in the CNNF. [17]

The numerous streams, rivers, wetlands, and lakes provide many opportunities for fishing. Provided they have a Wisconsin state fishing license, people can expect to encounter a range of quality fish like the muskellunge, northern pike, bass, walleye, and trout. [18]

Resource Management

Timber/Vegetation Management

Lumber operations are still taking place in the national forest but on a more sustainable scale. The sale of lumber and other vegetation products helps provide jobs which support local and state economies. All the while, the overall goal for this management is to ensure the continued health and restoration of Northwoods lost to earlier logging operations. [19]

Non-Native Invasive Species

In July 2005, a forest-wide non-native invasive plant management program was implemented. The goal is to prevent such plant species from spreading to native ecosystems and taking over from native species. Due to the heavy logging of the regions past, much of the land is disturbed which makes it easier for non-native invasive to get a foothold and grow in number. As of 2015 there are close to 40 non-native invasive plant species of immediate concern [20]. Exotic animal species include the Emerald Ash Borer, Gypsy Moth, and Asian Longhorn Beetle.

Restoration Projects

Forest Restoration

Even with the reforestation efforts of the CCC, the national forest still requires restoration. Many of the trees currently standing are remnants from what timber barons did not want. This leaves the biodiversity of the trees limited to what grew and survived during that period. The trees planted by the CCC men over 70+ years ago present their own faults. Many of those trees planted were of the same age. A healthy forest system contains not only a diverse range of tree species but also a greater range of different ages between individual trees [21]. The restoration of the forest also coincides with restoration efforts for certain animal habitats. For instance, ruffed grouse and woodcock need young aspen and alder forests for some of their habitat needs. Maintenance via logging or trimming of trees generates enough of a disturbance to maintain the young forest habitat they, and many other species, need to live. [22]


  1. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest", The House of ChaRuut, 2017,
  2. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - History & Culture", USDA Forest Service, accessed April 2017,
  3. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - History & Culture", USDA Forest Service, accessed April 2017,
  4. "Chequamegon National Forest", Frank Kempf, 2010, accessed May 2017,
  5. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - History & Culture", USDA Forest Service, accessed April 2017,
  6. "Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey", University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, accessed May 2017,
  7. Down to Earth, Ted Steinberg, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg. 65-66 66
  8. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest", National Forest Foundation, 2017,
  9. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest", National Forest Foundation, 2017,
  10. "The Forest Resources of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest", David E. Haugen, Phillip C. Freeman, and Mark A. Theisen, 1998, (Resource Bulletin NC-194, North Central Forest Experiment Station), 1-2,
  11. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - Recreation", USDA Forest Service, accessed April 2017,
  12. "The Forest Resources of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest", David E. Haugen, Phillip C. Freeman, and Mark A. Theisen, 1998, (Resource Bulletin NC-194, North Central Forest Experiment Station), 2,
  13. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - Water Activities", USDA Forest Service, accessed May 2017,
  14. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - Hiking", USDA Forest Service, accessed May 2017,
  15. "The Forest Resources of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest", David E. Haugen, Phillip C. Freeman, and Mark A. Theisen, 1998, (Resource Bulletin NC-194, North Central Forest Experiment Station), 2,
  16. "Chequamegon National Forest NCT Information/Rules", United States Forest Service, accessed May 2017,
  17. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - Hunting", USDA Forest Service, accessed May 2017,
  18. "Chequamegon National Forest", Frank Kempf, 2010, accessed May 2017,
  19. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - Land & Resource Management", USDA Forest Service, accessed April 2017,
  20. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - Non-Native Invasive Species on the Chequamegon-Nicolet", USDA Forest Service, accessed May 2017,!ut/p/z1/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zijQwgwNHCwN_DI8zPyBcqYKAfjlVBmA9cQRQx-g1wAEci9eNREIXf-HD9KKxWIPuAkBkFuaGhEQaZjgCVqf1Y/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/?position=Feature*&pname=Chequamegon-Nicolet%20National%20Forest-%20Resource%20Management%20&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&ss=110913&pnavid=130000000000000&navid=130120000000000&ttype=detail&cid=STELPRDB5119844
  21. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest - History & Culture", USDA Forest Service, accessed April 2017,
  22. "Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin",, accessed May 2017,

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