This IBA encompasses Amberg State Wildlife Area and adjacent Marinette County Forest lands. It is located near the center of the Northeast Sands Ecological Landscape, and is dominated by forests of pine and oak. A relatively rolling outwash is found throughout the site with numerous depressions harboring forested wetland communities such as alder thickets and cedar-tamarack bogs. Scattered pockets of pine barrens and rock outcrops are significant features. Some rock outcrops are extensive, covering several acres and harboring shrub vegetation. The landscape has been altered by timber exploitation, road and power grid construction, but the human population is sparse-to-moderate. Some of the uplands have patches of naturally generated pine forest, but most of the area is managed for red pine, jack pine, and aspen. Primary vegetative cover types include mature red pine and white pine forest, young deciduous upland forest, mature deciduous upland forest, scattered pine plantation, alder thicket, and swamp conifer. Smaller patches of open wet meadow, barrens, lakes, and upland openings exist.
This site hosts high populations of numerous priority species, particularly barrens and shrub and conifer wetland species. Brown Thrasher, Veery, Golden-winged Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Chestnut-sided Warbler are among those found in large numbers. This area offers one of the best opportunities in the state for large-scale restoration and management of pine barrens, a community that is considered the rarest of the potential successional stages in Wisconsin due to the history of fire suppression. A sufficiently extensive acreage of pine barrens eventually may be able to support a population of Sharp-tailed Grouse (Pohlman et al. 2006). This site also is close to where three Kirtland?s Warblers were recorded in 1997 (Trick 2006). Management of Athelstane Barrens potentially could provide ideal habitat for this federally endangered and state Special Concern species. The wet shrub and swamp conifer habitats here also are significant, supporting breeding assemblages of associated species. The population of Golden-winged Warbler in particular is one of the highest of any site in Wisconsin.
Conservation of the pine barrens community will depend largely on restoration, but research on restoration techniques is needed (WDNR 2005). Active management is required to maintain such sites, and the use of prescribed fire is especially encouraged. Other threats to the barrens community include deer over-browsing, conversion to pine plantations, recreational use, and the invasion of non-native plants. Forested wetland communities are vulnerable to altered hydrology and other disturbances. An opportunity exists at this site to manage these habitats within a larger complex of native communities, including early-successional habitats and older forest. All of these considerations need to be addressed in a comprehensive and integrated management strategy where large tracts exist and can be restored or managed to enhance the bird community.