Bear Creek Research Natural Area

[photo:] The warm, slow-moving water of Bear Creek is bordered by sedge meadow and alder thicket. 1997 USDA Forest Service Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest photo.

Medford-Park Falls
Bear Creek contains a mosaic of high-quality community types plus a remnant old-growth white pine (Pinus strobus) forest. The site contains some of the oldest eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)-hardwood stands remaining on the Medford-Park Falls District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Also significant is a two-mile (3 km) stretch of Bear Creek and associated high quality wetlands, contained within the RNA.  Floral diversity is high and includes several uncommon orchid species. Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus), a state-threatened species, have been seen within Bear Creek RNA and have been known to nest in the surrounding area.

Ecological Information

Physical and Climatic Conditions

Nearest weather station, with distance and direction from RNA:
Jump River 1 ESE (station no. 474080)  is about 4 mi (6.4 km) north of the RNA.
Annual precipitation (type, seasonal distribution) :
Annual precipitation averages 33 inches (84 cm), 71% of which falls between April and September. Average seasonal snowfall is 56.9 inches (144 cm).
Maximum and minimum temperatures:
Daily summertime temperatures average 58° F; average daily maximum temperatures average 52.4° F. Average temperature in the winter is 24° F; average daily minimum temperatures average 29.8° F.
Elevations range from 1,290 feet (393 m) to 1,375 feet (419 m) MSL.
Geology and Soils:
The ice-walled lake plain glacial feature found on the eastern side of the RNA was formed as the glacier retreated. A wall of stagnant ice trapped the outwash sediments, creating a plateau of debris that was later covered with fine wind-borne loess deposits. Carbonates make up the bedrock of this LTA, which is between 100 feet and 50 feet of the land surface. Geomorphologic processes are till and glacial meltwater deposition. Land surface is till plain with outwash terraces.
The soils of Bear Creek RNA fall into the Freer-Almena-Auburndale Series. They are generally moderately well to poorly drained loamy and silty soils with a silt loam surface over non-calcareous sandy loam dense till. Very poorly drained nonacid organic soils are also present. Nutrient status is medium to rich.
Aquatic Features:
Located within the Yellow River watershed, Bear Creek is a warm-water stream that flows south into the Chequamegon Waters Impoundment. This creek is shallow and slow-moving with water slightly stained with tannic acid from the swamp origins.   Spring rains swell the creek in April and May but in late August, it can be nearly dry in some places making it essentially non-navigable.

Ecological Classification & Inventory

Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, 212X Northern Highland
Central NW Wisconsin Loess Plain (Xd)
Landtype Association(s):
Jump River Ground Moraine  (Xd05)
Plant Communities:
Community Type
Kotar Habitat
US National
Vegetation Classification
Northern mesic forest AH/ATM eastern hemlock, yellow birch (white Pine) Tsuga canadensis - (Betula alleghaniensis) Forest CEGL002598
Northern mesic forest AH eastern hemlock sugar maple, white ash (red oak) Acer saccharum - Betula alleghaniensis - (Tilia americana) Forest CEGL002457 or CEGL002062
Northern mesic forest ATM/AH (wet phase) eastern hemlock, red maple, yellow birch Tsuga canadensis - Acer saccharum - Betula alleghaniensis Forest CEGL005044
Northern mesic forest ATM paper birch (succeeding to sugar maple, white ash, red oak) seral-stage
Northern wet-mesic forest ATM eastern hemlock, yellow birch red maple, white cedar Tsuga canadensis - Betula alleghaniensis Saturated Forest CEGL005003
Northern wet forest N/A tamarack, black spruce Thuja occidentalis - Larix laricina / Sphagnum spp. Forest CEGL005225
Northern Hardwood Swamp N/A black ash Fraxinus nigra - Mixed Hardwoods - Conifers / Cornus sericea / Carex spp. Forest CEGL002105
Northern Sedge Meadow N/A Calamagrostis canadensis, Carex spp., and Scirpus cyperinus Calamagrostis canadensis - Eupatorium maculatum Herbaceous Vegetation CEGL005174
Alder thicket N/A
Alnus incana
Emergent aquatic N/A Potamogeton spp. undetermined

Complete Plant List

Common Shrub Species
The banks of Bear Creek are often bordered by  speckled alder (Alnus incana) and meadowsweet (Spirea tomentosa). Other common shrub species include velvet-leaf blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides), American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis), alderleaf buckthorn (Rhamnus alnifolia), and steeplebush (Spiraea alba).
Common Herbaceous Species:
Ground flora is diverse with a high abundance of rich site indicator species such as Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginiana), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), cut-leaved toothwort (Dentaria laciniata), skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and woodland phlox (Phlox divaricarta). A bluejoint grass- (Calamagrostis canadensis) dominated wet meadow borders the creek, which also supports a few emergent and submerged aquatics including alpine pondweed (Potamogeton alpinus) and aquatic mosses.
Lower elevation areas contain a dense and diverse mix of ground layer species with several uncommon orchids present.   Where hardwoods are dominant, intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia), wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), yellow blue-bead lily (Clintonia borealis), and American starflower (Trientalis borealis) are common features. Spring ephemeral plants are common.  Other notable species that are locally uncommon include:  Large flowered yellow lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens),  Lesser purple-fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes), American ginseng ( Panax quinquefolius),  Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata),  Lance-leaved grape fern (Botrychium lanceolatum), and  Silvery spleenwort (Deparia acrostichoides).
Common Fauna
The mature upland forests of Bear Creek RNA provide nesting sites for pileated woodpeckers (Corvus corax ) and northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus). Seven species of bats occur on the CNNF and while there has been no survey for bats in this area all species rely at one time or another on a matrix of older forests and water such as this RNA provides. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) exist here in high numbers as evidenced by the extensive browse on trees and shrubs. The state-threatened red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) has also been seen and heard calling within the area (Fields 1997).
Potential Research Topics
The large size of this site and intact gradient through various plant communities make it ideal for research in many aspects of forest ecology. In light of global climate change, its position on the edge of the climatic Tension Zone in Wisconsin makes it a valuable location to study forest adaptation to temperature and moisture changes. The presence of large, old trees allows for study of historical climate patterns on forest growth.
A small geologic ice-walled lake plain feature (an area of recessional moraine with an unusually rich species composition) with intact forest cover is a unique element for study as most of these elsewhere have been converted to agriculture.

Related link: Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Bear Creek Hemlocks

Related Reports and Publications

Brzeskiewicz, Marjory.  2013.  Establishment Record for Bear Creek Research Natural Area.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Medford-Park Falls District, Taylor County, Wisconsin.   43 pp.

Curtis, J. T. 1959. Vegetation of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI.

Fields, D.M.  1997.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Research Natural Area Evaluation Report: Bear Creek.  Unpublished Forest Service report on file in Park Falls Headquarters.

Kotar, J., J. Kovach, T. Burger.  2002.  A Guide to Forest Communities and Habitats of Northern Wisconsin (2nd edition).  Madison: University of Wisconsin, Department of Forest Ecology and Management.

NGDC.  National Geographic Data Committee. 2012. National Vegetation Classification Standard (NVCS). Available online:  Accessed 2012.

Last Modified: August 19, 2021