Fragmentation presentation by Joe Hovel

Kretz Lumber Co. Forest Family Field Day, September 13, 2008

By Joe Hovel, with input from John Schwarzmann and Rachel Hovel.


            A few months ago while on a field tour of a woodland in Vilas County, the owner pulled out a letter from a disgruntled neighbor. The quote was striking as I read “we are not building a million dollar home here to live in the middle of a tree farm.”

            Now, WHAT is wrong with this?  This family practices sustainable forest management to be belittled by a new neighbor in an adjoining subdivision.

            My brother is a dairy farmer in central Wis. and had a similar experience when a new adjoining neighbor complained of how the farm smells.  Some thing does smell here, but not the farm.  These incidents are a part of the impacts of Fragmentation.

            Forest Fragmentation is commonly defined as “a reduction in the forest stand size and loss of larger stands of forested acreage”.  Across the landscape, fragmentation creates a patchwork of small forested stands and habitat patches and as a result forest types become diluted or lost.  Extreme examples are seen when lots are sold down to an acre or less in size, and when waterfront parcels are marketed with only 100 feet of frontage.  As troubling as this small-lot fragmentation is, the division of full 640 acre sections of PRODUCTIVE Industrial forest lands into 40 acre parcels is most substantial and worthy of concern to the timber industry.

            Fragmentation at any level lends suburban character to the landscape. Smaller lot sizes through parcelization most often result in a permanent land use change, altering the character and land use options of a region.

            We brought with us these density maps of Wisconsin which vividly display the dramatic rate of land use change.  [ Readers, see, particularly ]

When discussing fragmentation or parcelization, there are several relevant factors.  

Roads, for example:

            Fragmentation leads to more roads, which in turn leads to further fragmentation as the network of roads facilitates more development.

 Zoning and Government are big factors:

               Zoning might be designed to limit sprawl, but it may also encourage it.  New septic system regulations allow development in areas previously considered off bounds.

            Property taxes often encourage fragmentation, as assessment is based on highest and best use.  This may penalize landowners who have no intention of changing land use. Not all landowners may be comfortable with the MFL or CFR, which are the only real programs to manage high forest property taxes.  The ESTATE tax can also contribute to fragmentation.

            Local units of government often leap at the lure of further tax dollars, ignoring the future costs to the community by the demand for services. Many studies on the cost of community services demonstrate that over time these rural developments are a fiscal drain to communities, as more roads need plowing and maintenance, and school busing, ambulance, police costs etc. expand to a degree never imagined.

Forestry Practices are sometimes debatable:

               Some forestry practices are often cited as the equivalent to fragmentation.  For example, short rotation aspen clear cuts often offend the onlooker who has little or no knowledge of silviculture. It is important to note however, that forestry practices, no matter how controversial, are not a permanent landscape change, as is development. At the same time, we must also realize that these types of forestry practices often require more roads, which in turn can contribute to development or invasive plants.

            I often state that the final crop of trees is cut when you prepare for development; from there on you witness a landscape with a very different purpose.    


            In short, as these maps display, fragmentation has seriously altered the Northwoods region.  An influx of people coming to the north to vacation and recreate along with the financial boom of the 90’s and the eagerness of realtors and sellers to “liquidate for the quick buck” has taken its toll.  Lands of substantial size were purchased at reasonable prices, fragmented into smaller parcels and sold for extravagant profits. A select few received windfall financial reward while working folks lost the original integrity and character of their landscape, and often their hunting grounds as well.


What are the IMPACTS of all this?


There may be Economic Stress: 


 We see an Increase of Forest Edge Habitat:

            (Edge habitats are where two very different land uses come together so that there is generally a big difference in size and age of neighboring stands or between trees and suburb or farm field. Edges tend to be hotter, dryer, sunny and have more young stems so deer browse is higher and deer numbers are higher.  Interior forest conditions tend to be about 100-300 feet from an edge and are shady, cool, and more moist and tend to have fewer young stems and less browse.)

            More edge habitat results in a loss of interior habitat for wildlife, which can be destructive to many species.  For example raptors such as the Goshawk and Red Shouldered Hawk suffer.  The Fischer and Pine Marten also require an interior landscape.  Development leads to house cats, a serious threat to many song birds.  Raccoons and skunks thrive in edge habitat and commonly prey on bird and reptile eggs.

            An increase in weedy species and deer densities, in turn results in region-wide failure of tree regeneration.  Canada Yew, Cedar, Hemlocks and Yellow Birch are all vulnerable to deer density stress. Deer density contributes to the near epidemic proportion of Lyme Disease and other Spirocetal infections. Non-native invasive plant species such as Garlic Mustard get root in areas of landscape disturbance.  This plant has the ability to thrive in the shade of a canopy and literally chokes out native plants and forest regeneration.


Fragmentation is a Threat to Recreation: Hunting areas are lost!

         Forest Fragmentation condenses more people into fewer acres and often threatens habitat for game and non-game wildlife.  In turn, Hunting and Fishing areas are lost, and most areas experience an increase in trespass and related conflicts. These conflicts in turn result in more government control, with more regulations and more costs to the community.

            Trail networks, both motorized and non-motorized, can be lost or become more costly. One unwilling landowner can close a trail system, and numerous land owners increase the numbers of leases and easements and the cost of obtaining them.

            Tourism is a highly compatible partner to sustainable forest management and requires large tracts of intact forests to attract visitors.



            If the best examples of natural habitat remain only on public lands because of fragmentation of private lands, conflicts will increase over the protection of biodiversity, especially threatened and endangered species. Public resource managers have a mandate to manage for more than timber, so this in turn further hampers the timber economy.*


            In short, the impacts on the communities, the environment, and local economies are tremendous.  Environmental impacts can be very obvious, often drawing attention.  Habitats are lost or degraded and fragile ecosystems are compromised when houses are built, roads are created, and density of population increases.  Water quality can be hampered as not all land users follow best management practices, and development often concentrates near shorelines.

            Local economies suffer. As earlier stated, the increase in tax revenue is often outweighed by the costs of providing amenities to these rural developments. Local industries may also suffer, especially those related to forest products, as the productive forest base erodes.  It becomes obvious that the smaller the land parcels the less chance an owner will practice forest management. When the opportunity to practice forest management is threatened, then goes the income opportunities, which in turn can snowball into more ownership fragmentation.



 *According to UW researcher Roger Hammer, “The growth of housing in northern Wis. is undeniable and has the potential to isolate public lands, which are at risk of becoming islands in a sea of human domination and are likely to suffer local extinctions and biodiversity loss.”