Ackley Demonstration Area, Langlade and Marathon Counties, Wisconsin

About Ackley Demonstration Area

The Langlade and Marathon County Forests lie in rolling to hilly terrain in northern Wisconsin. Langlade County Forest totals 130,003 acres; Marathon County Forest is 28,623 acres. The Ackley Demonstration Area includes part of both of these forests, as well as the Ackley State Wildlife Area.

The entire region was essentially clearcut in the late 1800s and early 1900s; in the wake of the uncontrolled logging, huge wildfires burned off much of the remaining vegetation. Settlers tried to farm the newly cleared land, but soils did not support agriculture and the people moved on. County governments took over many properties for unpaid taxes. Today, logging operations are sustainable and ongoing, and commercial timber harvesting is a major economic enterprise.

Aspen makes up about 40 percent of the forest. Much of the remainder is in northern hardwoods, including beech, birches, maples, ash, and oak. Extensive alder stands and wetlands vein the area. Wildlife is plentiful, including deer, bear, waterfowl, upland gamebirds, and many nongame species.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologists have designated three adjoining tracts as a demonstration area for management activities that will benefit woodcock and other young-forest wildlife. The Ackley Forest Unit comprises 32,681 acres in southwest Langlade County, and the Hewitt-Harrison Unit includes 9,116 acres in northeast Marathon County. The demonstration area also takes in the 1,158-acre Ackley State Wildlife Area.


Alder shearing is done in winter, when the shrubs' energy resources are stored in the root systems.

The goal is to maintain and expand existing young forest by harvesting approximately 372 acres of aspen per year (around 311 acres in Langlade County Forest and 61 acres in Marathon County Forest). Managers will annually renew up to 80 to 100 acres of mature and overmature alder. They will also work with nearby private landowners to increase the amount of habitat created by commercial timber harvests.


A newly sheared alder site looks barren, but . . .

The project began in the winter of 2009-10, when workers cut 20 acres of alder using a rubber-tracked loader with a revolving cutting head to shear off strips following the moisture gradient. Since then, around 300 acres of alder have been treated in 56 different locations. In addition, conservationists developed a 3-acre woodcock roosting field in the Langlade County part of the demonstration area.

In alder stands, over the next several decades managers will use noncommercial cutting to gradually break up large expanses of even-age shrubs, creating strips and patches of differing ages. In addition to woodcock, the cuts benefit ruffed grouse, golden-winged warblers, sedge wrens, swamp sparrows, willow flycatchers, Wilson’s snipe, and many other birds and mammals.


. . . it will begin to grow back vigorously the following spring.

Much excellent woodcock feeding and brood-rearing habitat already exists on the two county forests (including the two units that make up most of the demonstration area) in the form of lands logged during the past two decades. In the demonstration area alone, the Ackley Unit has 4,611 acres of aspen less than 20 years old, and the Hewitt-Harrison Unit has 1,071 acres less than 20 years old (total, 5,682 acres). Almost 1,201 acres of aspen were cut in the two units between January 2011 and December 2015.

Woodcock find roosting habitat on fields with sparse grass that were formerly managed for sharp-tailed grouse. The fields are burned periodically to keep them as openings within the forested landscape. Woodcock also roost on woods roads, trails, and log landings.

Langlade County Forest includes 577 openings, each averaging 1.5 acres in size. Marathon County Forest has 76 openings averaging slightly under 1 acre each. Woodcock males use many of these openings for singing and displaying. The openings are mowed every three to five years.

Funding and Partners

Langlade County Forest, Marathon County Forest, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Ruffed Grouse Society, Wildlife Management Institute

How to Visit

A good point of entry is a parking area on Wisconsin Route 64 about 13 miles east of Merrill and 11.5 miles west of Antigo. The parking lot is on the south side of the road, on the eastern edge of Ackley Wildlife Area. Beyond a gate, a road leads south and then southeast into the demonstration area.

For more information, contact Wisconsin DNR wildlife technician Eric Borchert at the Antigo DNR Service Center, 223 E. Steinfest Rd., Antigo WI 54409, phone 715-623-4190 x 3124, or