Scott and Shelp Lakes SNA, Forest County

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Scott and Shelp Lakes SNA, Forest County

Post by DonCBragg » Sun Aug 11, 2019 9:02 pm

Scott and Shelp Lakes State Natural Areas (SSLSNA) covers 1,674 acres of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Forest County, Wisconsin, approximately 8 miles east of the village of Three Lakes. This parcel was recognized as a SNA in 1974 to protect both Scott Lake and Shelp Lake, spring-fed undeveloped lakes embedded in old-growth hemlock-hardwood-pine upland forests and associated forested swamps, open marshes, and other wetland features.

The upland forests of SSLSNA are overwhelmingly eastern hemlock, with lesser amounts of associated northern conifer and northern hardwood species. Associated conifers include supercanopy eastern white pine, red pine, and an occasional emergent white spruce. Sharing the more continuous canopy cover with eastern hemlock are species such as northern whitecedar, balsam fir, yellow birch, red maple, and sugar maples. The hemlock overstory provides a fairly continuous dense shade, and much of the forest floor is covered by a dense layer of needles and very few understory trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants. Shade-tolerant balsam fir seedlings and saplings are probably the most common understory tree found; few eastern hemlock or northern whitecedar are to be found (probably due to browsing by white-tailed deer). Various fern species, wood sorrel, bunchberry, yellow beadlily, and wild lily-of-the-valley are common, especially where more light becomes available.

I took the following heights on a couple visits in early August 2019 using my TruPulse 200L and the sine method. Because this was a quick scout, rather than an exhaustive attempt to find maximum heights, these heights should be considered on the low end for just about every tree.

Common name Scientific name DBH (in) HT (ft) Comments
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 44.5 117.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 38.3 115.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 40.0 114.0
White spruce Picea glauca 24.0 95.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 35.6 111.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 37.8 114.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 32.6 114.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 31.9 90.0 dead top
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 38.4 114.0
Red pine Pinus resinosa 21.4 86.0
Red pine Pinus resinosa 24.3 103.0
Red pine Pinus resinosa 22.2 94.5
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 40.5 108.5
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 32.5 114.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 36.7 115.0
Red pine Pinus resinosa 24.1 102.5
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 39.0 116.0
Red pine Pinus resinosa 31.7 107.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 37.8 119.5
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 33.2 120.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 35.1 124.0
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 39.7 127.5 Clear view
Yellow birch Betula alleghaniensis 31.7 67.0
Northern whitecedar Thuja occidentalis 26.7 69.5 low
Eastern white pine Pinus strobus 35.1 109.0
Red pine Pinus resinosa 26.4 94.5
Red pine Pinus resinosa 28.5 100.0
Red pine Pinus resinosa 25.2 98.0
Eastern hemlock Tsuga canadensis 27.1 not taken

Eastern white pines were easily the tallest and girthiest trees at SSLSNA. The emergent white pines towered 20 to 40 feet (or more) above the more continuous hemlock-dominated overstory. Usually, these white pines were scattered throughout the stand, although some areas were more pine dominated (and a mix of eastern white and red pines). Indeed, the trailhead parking along the gravel road (Scott Lake Road, a public road) I took into SSLSNA immediately presented the largest diameter eastern white pine I measured, a stout specimen 44.5 inches DBH and 117 feet tall:
The stand surrounding this trailhead parking and the short trail to Shelp Lake had a number of other large, tall white pines, which undoubtedly benefited from the abundance of white pine in this stand to reach these heights. This particular stand also had a large white spruce that reached at least 95 feet tall.
The trail to Shelp Lake quickly descended from the uplands into a black spruce-northern whitecedar-tamarack swamp, and then into a marsh dominated by Labrador tea and other acidic bog plants, including a few pitcher plants.
The boardwalk trail leading out onto this more-or-less floating bog has not been particularly well-maintained, so be careful of uneven and slippery boards. It ends at the edge of the sedges prior to the lake’s edge; I did not walk out further, so I don’t know how easy it is to get much further that way…A look across the small lake to the north shows a line of tall eastern white pine that I’ll try to reach in a later trip (I definitely didn’t cover the entire 1674 acres on these visits!

On my first trip, I got the impression that this trail wasn’t heavily used…I was out there for a half day (Sunday morning) and saw no other hikers nor heard any cars along the road. By the time I visited again a few days later, however, it was apparent that some less-than-classy individuals had also visited…they left some trash near the trailhead parking, and one of them decided to carve an initial in one of the black spruce along the boardwalk:
Fortunately, there were plenty of other places NOT visited by these bums, and good opportunities to take only photographs, and leave only footprints… Here are some Indian-pipe (Monotropa uniflora), a saprophytic plant, I found growing in the moss:
South of the gravel road, a short wildlife trail loops through the hemlock-dominated uplands. Quite a few white and red pines tower above the hemlocks:
A large number of white pines have been broken in recent storms, or died from other causes, and are not replacing themselves due to the dense shade cast by the hemlocks. I would estimate this stand is probably mostly 150 to 200 year old trees, although it is possible older hemlocks may be found. My theory on these stands is that they were high graded during the lumbering era for the big pines (and possibly hemlocks) that were present at that time (turn of the 20th Century). I found at least one large stump which I believe is the decayed remnant from this time; the resin-soaked heartwood is all that remains. The selective removal of these pines left behind smaller trees to grow into today’s giants.
As gaps form today, opportunities for the next generation of canopy dominants emerge, but I saw few examples of the current overstory dominants in the few gaps apparent; I suspect deer browsing, exotic species impacts, and perhaps factors like climate change and loss of key natural disturbances will likely mean that the future stand will become very different (perhaps balsam fir and red maple dominated).
The tallest pines were found at the backside of a loop wildlife trail in a grove of white pines. The tallest specimen I measured, the 39.7 inch DBH, 127.5 ft tall tree (that is my wife taking the diameter measurement) is an impressive tree, with a healthy crown still showing some apical dominance. It is perhaps the most accurately measured as well; a storm that had passed through days before had dropped a neighboring hemlock that freed up the view I had in this picture.
I don’t want to not comment on the large red pines scattered in this stand…although not as common nor as tall or girthy as the white pines, these red pines are also impressive and an increasingly rare component of forests in northern Wisconsin. This picture (also showing my wife measuring diameter) shows the substantial size these pines can reach.

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