Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Cudahy Nature Preserve Receives Old-Growth Forest Designation

Nature preserve recognized by national network of old-growth forests.

By - May 2nd, 2024 10:30 am

Cudahy Nature Preserve. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

The Cudahy Nature Preserve on the south side of Milwaukee County was officially recognized by a national organization dedicated to old-growth forests.

The 42-acre Cudahy Nature Preserve was inducted into the National Old-Growth Network, which is a catalog of hundreds of these rare forests. The network, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is attempting to raise awareness of the importance of old-growth forests and of efforts to protect forested areas that may one day be considered “old-growth”.

“I’m incredibly proud, humbled, and inspired to see Cudahy Nature Preserve inducted into the national Old-Growth Forest Network, an honor shared by only seven other forests throughout the state of Wisconsin,” said Guy Smith, Milwaukee County Parks Executive Director in a statement.

What is an old-growth forest? According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), old-growth forests tend to have multi-layered canopies, substantially dead woody material, diverse species composition and a long-sustaining ecosystem. A precise definition depends on the region of the country. As a rule of thumb, old-growth forests are forests that pre-date European settlement of North America.

The Cudahy Nature Preserve has trees at least 200 years old, according to Milwaukee County Parks.

In 1976, the Patrick and Anna M. Cudahy Fund dedicated the woodland to the county parks system, entrusting the parks department with maintaining the natural area and preserving it as public land.

It is located in Oak Creek at 501 E. College Ave., immediately south of Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.

Parks has documented nearly 200 native plant species in the woodland, including 54 native trees and shrubs. Roughly 75% of the trees there have been classified as old-growth, with species like sugar maple, red oak and American basswood making up much of the tree canopy.

“Forests like Cudahy Nature Preserve are great places for families to experience the magic of old forests and the plants and wildlife that inhabit them,” said Nick Sanchez, network manager for the Old-Growth Forest Network.

The Cudahy preserve was identified for recognition by a local volunteer for the network, Bill Davidson. Part of the organization’s goal is to build not just a network of protected forests, but a network of people around the country interested in advocating for their protection.

While the Cudahy preserve is protected by the parks department, part of the Old-Growth Forest Network’s mission is to ensure preservation. The network was founded by author and environmental activist Joan Maloof to aid in the preservation of the few remaining old-growth forests in the U.S.

Because of land development, logging and natural events like tornadoes and wildfires, there are few old-growth forests left. In 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finished the first ever review of old-growth forests on federal public land. The report, which was requested by President Joe Biden‘s administration, found that only 18% of the forested land managed by BLM and the U.S. Forest Service are old-growth.

According to the nonprofit, less than 5% of original Western forests and less than 1% of original Eastern forests qualify as old growth.

Smith noted the significance of the Cudahy Nature Preserve’s induction into the network.

“This achievement is just one of the many examples throughout Milwaukee County’s history of generosity and a shared vision for environmental sustainability leaving a lasting impact on our community,” he said.

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

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