This IBA, on the Northern Highland-American Legion (NHAL) State Forest, covers a vast, forested area from north and east of White Sand Lake, east to Lake Laura, and southward to the Lake Tomahawk area. It forms a rugged rib in the pitted outwash land characteristic of the Northern Highlands Outwash. Numerous wetlands and one of the highest concentrations of lakes in the state are interspersed throughout this large area. Extensive tracts of old forest and conifer wetlands and numerous undeveloped lakes are significant and characteristic features of this site. Much of the forest lies on ridges or in low areas between ridges surrounding the lakes. Some of the uplands are in old growth condition with patches of hemlock and white pine mixed with hardwoods. In places, the uplands have been managed for early succession forest trees consisting primarily of aspen, pole-sized sugar maple, oak, and white birch. Primary vegetative cover types include alder thickets, forested conifer wetlands, open bog, muskeg, young deciduous upland forest, mature deciduous upland forest, and scattered old hemlock and white pine. Smaller patches of old red pine forest, floodplain forest, lakes, and upland openings exist. This site also harbors numerous rare features including aquatic insects and orchids.
This site holds large populations of many forest bird species, particularly those associated with coniferous forest types. Several diverse species assemblages are found here, with numerous priority species, some with large population sizes. Rare or uncommon species include Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Connecticut Warbler, Red Crossbill, and White-winged Crossbill. The many lakes harbor concentrations of breeding Common Loon, Osprey, and Bald Eagle. The avifauna is rich in neotropical migrants, especially warblers but also flycatchers, vireos, and thrushes. Many of these species occur in particularly dense breeding concentrations in mature or old-growth conifer stands.
Property management goals on the NHAL include providing for a wide array of terrestrial and aquatic communities and associated wildlife species, including endangered resources, timber production, diverse outdoor recreational opportunities, and education. Several large areas within this IBA have been identified as Native Community Management Areas, with portions of these further designated as Ecological Reference Sites in the NHAL State Forest Master Plan (WDNR 2005). Ecological Reference Sites will receive only passive management; many of these sites also are State Natural Areas. For the remainder of the Native Community Management Areas, the Master Plan calls for maintenance or development of old-growth characteristics, mostly for hemlock-hardwoods but also for red and white pine, and mixed forest. Management in wetland areas largely is focused on uplands, where the Master Plan emphasizes Best Management Practices to safeguard water quality and calls for increasing age, tree species composition, and the abundance of longer-lived species (hemlock-hardwoods, pine, spruce-fir). Diversity of forest structure and size and age classes is important for many priority species here. Forested and open wetlands also hold special opportunity for numerous birds and should be protected from disturbance, altered hydrology, and invasive species. The high level of residential development in this area is causing hydrologic changes; land use planning could be an important means of limiting negative impacts. Ongoing monitoring of target species in different community types will be necessary to ensure that management is maintaining bird diversity and abundance.