Public & Private Conservation Protects Thunder Lake
By Carrie Rasmussen, Philanthropy Director
Thunder Lake in Oneida County hosts the Northwoods Land Trust’s (NWLT) first donated conservation property, as well as our most recent donated parcel of land. This 1,800-acre shallow lake is lined mostly by black spruce and tamarack forest, shrub wetlands and open bogs with muck and peat soils that go as deep as ten feet.
NWLT and the donating families are building a greater conservation framework on Thunder Lake. Together, we are adding to the protected lands framework that the state first established back in the early 1950s with the formation of the Thunder Lake State Wildlife Area.
Thunder Lake is classified as a ‘wild lake,’ meaning it has little development along its shores. One of NWLT’s priorities is protecting wild lake shoreline. The lake is also close to the village center of Three Lakes, making it very accessible to the general public.
The 144-acre conservation area on the northeast side of Thunder Lake was donated to NWLT by an anonymous donor in 2006 and is adjacent to the state wildlife area. The property is mostly wetland and is accessible through the wildlife area or by boat (the northernmost boat launch on the lake).
NWLT’s most recent land donation, 66+/- acres gifted by the Pinkerton family in late 2022, is on the southern end of Thunder Lake and is accessible by road or boat (the southernmost boat launch). This property boasts over one mile of lake frontage dominated by spruce and tamarack forest.
Tamarack (Larix laricina) is also known as the American larch, hackmatack or eastern larch. It is a deciduous conifer, one of only few species of conifers that are not evergreen. It is in the Pinaceae (pine) family and in autumn the needles turn a beautiful golden yellow and fall off. Its name is likely derived from the Algonquian word that refers to a type of wood for making snowshoes.
This small to medium size tree thrives in cold, damp environments and can survive very cold temperatures of -85 degrees F and can live up to 180 years. So, while you are out exploring the woods this winter on snowshoes or skis, and run across tamarack, remember that they are well adapted and are likely very much alive (although they may look more like they are dead without their needles).
Sphagnum mosses are nearly continuous on the hummocky floors of black spruce and tamarack forests. Sphagnum mosses, or peat mosses, have been used by people across the globe for at least 1,000 years. In ancient times, warriors used moss to pack their wounds. Moss was also used by Native Americans who lined their children’s cradles and carriers with it as a type of natural diaper.
Peatlands are full of spaghnum and other mosses that spend thousands of years accumulating carbon in their underground layers. If peatlands dry out (or defrost in arctic areas) due to shifts in climate, we risk releasing all that stored carbon into the atmosphere.
Peatlands, like the ones found around Thunder Lake, are rich ecosystems – pockets of biodiversity – that are home to rare and specialized species. With the shrub and forested wetlands, the Thunder Lake area is home to numerous birds, mammals and amphibians. Three rare species, the Nelson sharp-tailed sparrow, merlin and yellow rail nest there.
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