Woodlands and forests are dynamic ecosystems that contain a large diversity of plant and animal life. Many picture large trees when thinking about forest, but they also contain shrubs, forbs, grasses, fungi, and sedges. Badertscher Preserve and Engel Conservation Site have large sections of woodlands with trails running through for individuals to enjoy.
Forests continually undergo change. Succession refers to a process in which different species invade and occupy a site, only to be replaced in the future by other species. Changing conditions in sunlight, moisture, nutrient levels, and other factors control the type of species that can grow in the forest. Over time, natural forest succession usually changes a forest toward a composition of shade tolerant species. Periodic natural disturbances, such as fire, can delay or reset this succession process.
Oak savanna, also called "oak openings," was the dominant land cover type of southern Wisconsin before European settlement. This transition zone between the prairies of the Central Plains and the forests of eastern North America consisted of open-grown trees or fragmented forests where prairie grasses and wildflowers thrived. Bur Oak is the predominant tree found in oak savannas, however White Oak, Black Oak, Northern Red Oak, and Shagbark Hickory are also found in Oak Savannas.
Natural disturbances, such as periodic wild fires, minimized the extent of woody plants and maintained the relatively low percentage of canopy cover of savannas. Because of human manipulation of the land: fire suppression, heavy grazing by livestock, and effects of competing invasive plants, few healthy oak savannas now exist in southern Wisconsin. Badertscher Preserve has several acres of actively manged Oak Savanna.
Lands with moderate to dense tree coverage (50-100% canopy) which lie outside of wetlands are classified as upland woodlands. Upland woodlands typically contain a variety of deciduous hardwood species but are often identified by dominant tree species (Oak woods, Oak/Hickory woods, Maple/Basswood woods, etc.). If no species is particularly dominant, they are sometimes termed “mixed hardwood forests.” At the climax of forest succession, Sugar Maple and Basswood Trees dominate the tree composition because of their ability to thrive in rather heavy shade. In Muskego, Maple/Basswood is considered the climax of forest succession. Many of the mixed hardwood forests in Muskego are former oak savannas.
Wisconsin's forests provide the air we breathe, help maintain the clean water we depend upon, and provide habitat for numerous species to enjoy. Tourism relating to woodlands is a significant contributor to the state's economy. Many recreational activities take place within Wisconsin's forests, such as hunting, camping, snowmobiling, hiking, and fishing.