Eau Claire County Forest: Adapting Harvest Operations


New timber sale requirements have been developed and DNR staff are evaluating the upcoming workload for suitable pilot projects.

The Eau Claire County Forest in northern Wisconsin covers 52,000 acres, one of the largest county forests in the state. It is managed through a partnership between the county and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  For this project, DNR staff assessed the impacts of climate change on forest management operations and designed several adaptation actions to help adjust to changing future conditions. 


County Forest website


Contact: Stephen Handler


Left: The Eau Claire County Forest. Photo from Eau Claire County.


Project Goals and Partners

The Eau Claire County Forest was established in 1934, and it is managed collaboratively by the county and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The forest is designated for multiple uses, including wildlife habitat improvement, timber harvest, and many forms of public recreation. A Comprehensive Land Use Plan for the forest is available here.

Specifically regarding timber harvesting, management goals for the property are to ensure a sustainable yield and to accommodate needs such as biodiversity, wildlife habitat, aesthetics, and watershed protection. A major emphsis of the County Forest Land Use Plan is to reduce soil disturbance due to forest management activities. Seasonal restrictions are applied to reduce soil disturbance, which often limit harvesting activities to periods of frozen ground or deep snowpack. 


Climate Change and Forest Management Operations

Staff from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources used the Adaptation Workbook from Forest Adaptation Resources to evaluate the potential climate change impacts on forest management operations within the Eau Claire County Forest. Potential climate change impacts that are of particular interest include:

  • Warmer winters are decreasing the duration of frozen ground conditions, which has reduced the window for winter harvest operations on the forest. Northern Wisconsin is projected to have 1-2 months fewer days with frozen ground by the end of the next century.
  • The snowpack is becoming thinner and more variable, which is limiting harvesting in certain areas that require a minimum snow depth.  Modeling projects that winter rain will become more common by the end of the century, particularly in the early and late winter months.
  • Longer growing seasons and warmer growing season temperatures are increasing the window of opportunity for dry-ground harvest operations, particularly in late summer and fall. 

Adaptation Actions

Several actions were identified to adjust forest management operations on the County Forest to accomodate changing conditions and continue to achieve the current management goals for the property. Examples include:

  • Write more specific oak wilt restrictions in timber sale contracts to account for weather and site characteristics.  This will remove blanket seasonal restrictions and allow for more dry-season harvest activities. 
  • Include design criteria for high-speed skid trails that call for dry or frozen ground.  This will help reduce rutting and compaction and maintain soil structure. 
  • Include design criteria to account for snow depth thresholds for winter harvest activities.  This will help reduce soil damage and protect advanced regeneration, and is an objective guideline for loggers to follow. 
  • Design more timber sales to be accessible in dry or frozen conditions. This will give operators more flexibility to take advantage of seasonal and year-to-year variability, and will result in more work getting done on the forest. 


Project Outcomes

The County and Wisconsin DNR are working together to introduce new timber sale requirements at the Eau Claire County Forest.  


Current Project Status

DNR staff are currently planning the next year's forest management operations and evaluating upcoming timber sales for opportunities to introduce these new ideas and gather feedback from loggers. 


Last updated: 4/4/2014