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Black River State Forest Natural features

Black River (photo courtesy Emily Alf)
Black River (photo courtesy Emily Alf)

Established in 1957, the Black River State Forest encompasses approximately 68,000 acres of public land in Jackson County. The property also contains about 12 miles of the large and fast moving Black River as well as three miles of the Black River’s east fork. The area is also known for its unique geological formations.

Area geography

The Black River State Forest landscape lies within an area that was strongly influenced by glaciation during the Ice Age. The Wisconsin Glaciation was responsible for creating many of the surface formations found in the vicinity of the forest.

Castle Mound (photo courtesy Emily Alf)
Castle Mound (photo courtesy Emily Alf)

After the Wisconsin Glaciation (but before vegetation covered the land) there was nothing to hold the sandy surfaces in place. Protruding above the sand plain are remnants of eroded Cambrian sandstone, forming buttes, hills, knolls, ridges and pediments. Castle Mound and Wildcat Mound are examples of landscape features formed by Upper Cambrian sandstone.

The original area within the Black River State Forest--which consisted primarily of white and red pine--was heavily logged between 1880 and 1895 and was later settled by homesteaders seeking farmland.

Today the forest consists of a mix of jack pine, oak and aspen as well as several rare and unique forest communities including white pine-red maple swamps, pine and oak barrens and moist cliff.

Plant ecology

There are also several rare and endangered plant and animal species including gray or timber wolf (Canis lupus), Kirtland’s warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii), Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis), beak grass (Diarrhena obovata) and sand violet (Viola fimbriatula).

Dike 17 Wildlife Area

The Dike 17 Wildlife Area consists of more than 5,000 acres of open land, with approximately 1300 acres classified as a waterfowl protection area. This area was originally created to provide waterfowl resting areas through creation and maintenance of thirteen flowages and to provide an open landscape within the state forest for sharp-tailed grouse habitat. Recently, wild rice was planted in some of the flowages in the hopes of providing a natural recurring food source for waterfowl as well as to provide recreational harvesting opportunities for the public.

Fishing is allowed on the flowages outside of the refuge boundary. Sucker, bullheads, northern pike, largemouth bass, yellow perch and black crappies are the most common species. The entire property is also open during the gun deer season.

Karner blue butterfly

Female Karner blue butterfly
Female Karner blue butterfly

In 1992, the Karner blue butterfly was listed as a federal endangered species. Although rare nationwide, this butterfly is relatively common in central and northwestern Wisconsin, especially where pine barrens, oak savannas and mowed corridors support growth of wild lupine, the only food of the Karner blue caterpillar. With its sandy soils and wild lupine populations, all of the Black River State Forest falls into the Karner blue's documented habitat range.

Recognizing how important maintaining a resilient and diverse ecosystem is to protecting native species, the DNR decided that preserving and enhancing the butterfly’s habitat on the property was a priority.


  • 1992 - Karner blue was added as an endangered species to the Federal Endangered Species list.
  • 1994 - 38 acres of oak and jack pine were cleared and site preparation was made for the planting of lupine seed.
  • 1995 - In the fall, 20 acres were hand-planted with lupine.
  • 1996 - Lupine plants were observed during the growing season.
  • 1999 - The Wisconsin Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) was created to protect populations of Karners in the state.
  • 2002 - Monitoring for the Karner during the summer showed the butterfly was present.
  • Today - Annual monitoring has shown that Karner blue continues to use this site, with a slight increases in numbers.

The HCP is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and 40 other public and private land managers. These partners have agreed to modify their management activities to enhance habitat conservation and minimize negative impacts on the butterfly. This plan has been nationally recognized for its innovative conservation strategies and partnering success.

As part of the HCP, the Black River State Forest surveys all proposed timber sale areas that include Karner blue habitat or are likely to support lupine and/or butterfly populations. In addition, timber harvests are often planned for the winter months when snow cover protects the butterflies in their dormant egg phase.

By protecting the Karner blue butterfly, the state forest and its HCP partners are not only protecting the globally imperiled barrens ecosystem but other rare species that also depend on this system, including the Kirtland's warbler, slender glass lizard, eastern massasauga rattlesnake, wood turtle, yellow gentian and Hill's thistle.

Last Revised: Friday May 04 2018