Old-Growth Forest Initiative

Photo by Anne Small

The Old-Growth Forest Initiative identifies and protects old-growth forest habitat in the northwoods of Wisconsin in partnership with landowners and other organizations.  The goals of the Initiative include providing educational materials to encourage private landowners to manage for old-growth forest habitats and protect some of these last remaining relics.


From about 1870 to 1940 nearly all of the forests in the northwoods were cut and burned during the great cutover. Today, less than 1% of old-growth forest remains in Wisconsin. Conserving the last pockets of these rare and remarkable habitats is paramount to protecting the state’s ecological and biological diversity.

Generally, old-growth forests are sites with stands of trees older than a 125-year average age. These stands can also include trees in various stages of growth. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, nearly all of the forests in the north were cut over and burned during the great pinery days. To the settlers of that time, the cutting and burning of forests was a way of life; trees were seen as raw materials and forests as barriers to expansion.

Today, remaining old-growth forests serve as benchmarks for understanding the implications of disturbing the natural landscape. They provide a glimpse into Wisconsin’s past. These dynamic ecosystems are extremely valuable in that they provide a varied forest structure capable of supporting a unique diversity of plants and animals compared to younger forests. Particular species of songbirds, birds of prey, mammals and understory plants are adapted to these habitats and they flourish best there.

Retaining old trees in our forested landscape also preserves the genetic pool of the strongest and most disease resistant trees – those that have survived and adapted over centuries of environmental change. Cultural and recreational values are also retained in these beautiful forests as they attract hikers, birders, hunters and budding scientists.

Support our initiative

Take Action!

Learn more and offer your support to protect old-growth habitat in the northwoods. Pockets of old-growth habitat not yet protected exist. NWLT needs your help to locate these typically isolated parcels. Habitat fragmentation of old-growth forest stands is a continual threat.

Act now to protect them before they are gone.


become a contributing supporter, or renew your support, with a donation to this initiative.


Conserve your mature or old-growth forest habitat, or purcahse land with old-growth characteristics for the purpose of protecting it.


Manage your land to promote mature-to-old forest habitats.

Learn more by exploring the resources below.


NWLT works in cooperation with partners, including:

Old-growth [forest] offers a time and scale perspective that is impossible to achieve in the short lives that we humans are given.”


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