Roland R. Rueckert
Ph.D.: (Oncology) University of Wisconsin-Madison
It’s been 16 years since I retired from academia and reinvented myself as a forest manager. Marv Wickens suggests it’s time for a progress report. First, we moved two years ago, after 43 years on West Lawn Ave., to Fox Ave two blocks away. Ruth “hated” the north-facing kitchen and leaky windows. I had imagined we’d find a single story house with a double garage where I could shelter my Subaru from the elements during the winter. Ruth couldn’t imagine leaving our neighborhood where there are no such houses. We found the south-facing kitchen she “always wanted” with a sun room overlooking a sheltered back yard perfect for birds and other loveable critters. Ruth loves puttering in “her” garden which is fine with me as I love to putter in “my” woodlands. She has converted the basement into a potting center and laundry. So, as we enter our eighty years of life, we still live in a two-story with basement and attic and a single garage with my Subaru still facing ice and snow every winter. And we can still walk to Trader Joes, our bank, pharmacy, library and perhaps most importantly, the Laurel Tavern. Oh, the house is tight, warm and requires one-third the amount of energy to heat and air condition.
Meanwhile I spend half my life in our woodlands, a 3 ½ hour drive north to 2374 Rueckert Road, about 5 miles, as the crow flies, southeast of Rhinelander in Oneida county. Headquarters is a two-bedroom cottage which includes a garage so that in Rhinelander I do not have to scrape snow and ice from my Subaru. On the other hand I have a lot more snow shoveling to do in the front yard. That is actually fortunate because, except for pine pruning, I don’t do much forest work in the winter. First, because heavy winter clothing taxes my stamina as I grow older and second because of a wolf pack prowling in my vicinity intimidates me. Paul DeLong, Wisconsin’s chief forester assures me there is no record of a wolf attacking a human but that provides him greater assurance behind his desk than it does me when I am alone in the deep snow.
But I digress from my forest manager activities. Our woodland is 310 acres of mixed conifer and hardwood growing in poor to good soil, undulating glacial till presenting a variety of biomes. One hundred acres I inherited from my father; the rest we acquired over the years beginning when I was a student in 1957. Since my retirement at the end of 1996 I have been learning how to manage it. Management, in this case, doesn’t mean planting trees. It is more a matter of selecting “desirable” trees by removing those less so. In the hills and eskers I favor long-lived white and red pine and oak at the expense of short-lived balsam fir which grow like grass but make lovely aromatic Christmas trees. The wet lowlands are dominated by sedge marshes which, the biologist say, have been that way since the last glaciers receded. The drier lowlands are dominated by spruce, fir and tamarack whose roots can survive the anaerobic soil conditions.
When the trails are clear of snow much of my time is occupied by keeping the roads cleared of fallen timber, my source of firewood. I patrol my three miles of logging trails on a sturdy all-terrain vehicle (ATV) carrying necessary tools – chain saw, pole saw, pruning saw, lopping shears and pruning shears, as the case may be. Bucking the trees into segments, splitting them and piling the firewood is invigorating in the dry cool fall, but sweaty and disagreeable during the humid mosquito season. I also work on esthetics, keeping brush from taking over on trails. But the heavy lifting of forest management is done, not by me, but by a logger. I have, in the last fifteen years had five harvests; each has been overseen by a DNR (Dept of Natural Resources) state forester. His services are paid by a 5% state tax imposed on the harvest. I have been fortunate in selection of my logger, Dennis Schoeneck who happens to be a neighbor, and who this year was selected Wisconsin State Tree Farmer of the Year. After each harvest the woods looks healthier.
I alluded above to wolves. These woodlands are also inhabited by deer, bear, coyotes, bobcat, raccoons, mink, ferret, beaver, muskrats and just recently, I’m assured by locals, by cougar and moose. As for flora I have so far cataloged 142 species, some of which are coveted enough to merit visits by a local nursery which has cloned some of them.
Finally I should mention that we put our woodland under a permanent conservation easement with the Northwoods Land Trust a few years ago. They monitor the land each year to insure it is being managed to their standards. If you are visiting the northwoods, be sure to stop by and visit. I’d be happy to show you what I am doing. 2374 Rueckert Road, Rhinelander WI 54501.