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Forest Regeneration Monitoring

Forest regeneration, the process of renewing tree cover by establishing seedlings and saplings, is one of the most basic and important elements of sustainable forest management. Successful and desirable regeneration is vital to forest health and productivity, particularly after a harvest or disturbance event. The composition of this regrowth will determine the future makeup of Wisconsin's forests.

It is critically important that regeneration patterns are well understood to properly manage our forest resources and develop sustainable forestry science and policy. It has become increasingly evident that more comprehensive data are needed to properly assess regeneration in Wisconsin. To more thoroughly investigate trends across the state, the Forest Regeneration Monitoring Program was launched in 2018.

Request a forest assessment from the Wisconsin DNR.


The program is using a newly developed monitoring tool, the Forest Regeneration Metric (FRM), to evaluate regeneration on recently harvested public and private forests across the state. The FRM is a 1/300th acre plot-based assessment that tallies seedlings and saplings by height class. In addition to statewide assessments, the FRM protocol can also be utilized to provide a more comprehensive assessment of stand-level regeneration for landowners and resource managers.

Based on initial estimations of regeneration variability, it was determined that approximately 16,000 FRM plots will need to be collected by the monitoring program every three years. The inventory will cover the 46 Wisconsin counties that are more than 30% forested. Monitoring will largely look at the regeneration of:

  • Oak-hickory
  • Northern hardwood
  • Pine forests
  • Bottomland hardwoods
  • Fir-spruce
  • Aspen-birch

Recently harvested sites will be assessed for densities of tree species by height class, deer browse intensity and competing vegetation.

This monitoring effort is similar to Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and Wisconsin Continuous Forest Inventory (WisCFI) efforts, but will collect samples more intensively to provide county-specific forest regeneration data.

Program goals

View a white paper [PDF] outlining the Forest Regeneration Monitoring program, initial results, its use as a deer metric for CDACs, its key limitations and future goals.
  • Provide county-level data on the effects and extent of deer browse on forest regeneration to County Deer Advisory Councils (CDACs) and wildlife resource managers
  • Assist in the development of Wisconsin-specific regeneration standards by forest type
  • Monitor long-term changes in the composition of Wisconsin’s forests
  • Assess the sustainability and effectiveness of our forest policy and regeneration methods
  • Provide a metric for landowners and resource managers to more comprehensively assess stand-level regeneration and effectiveness of management strategies
  • Supply data as a starting point for scientific investigations
  • Forecast forest trends to help others form economically and ecologically sustainable business plans
  • Keep the public informed on the status of Wisconsin’s forests

For landowners

Forest regeneration is an important variable that forest landowners should take into consideration. After a timber harvest has been completed on your land, regeneration monitoring is necessary to guide early management strategies and check the progress of your forest's regrowth. It can take several years for a forest to fully reestablish, and regular assessments are crucial during this time to ensure that your regrowth is healthy and on track to meet your objectives. Early monitoring can help identify any problems with stand development and direct any management interventions if necessary.

An FRM assessment can provide a detailed picture of your forest’s composition by evaluating regeneration of different species by height class. FRM also evaluates the impact of competing vegetation and deer browse, two common obstacles to regeneration success. Landowners can use the survey results to:

  • better predict future forest conditions;
  • see if the regeneration is on track to meet their goals; and
  • get a better picture of their forest composition.

How to get an assessment

Landowners are encouraged to contact someone from the Forest Regeneration Program if you are interested in having your forest assessed or have questions about the monitoring effort. Participation would entail access to your property to conduct a site visit, with a potential follow up visit in several years to track the regeneration progression. In exchange, landowners will be provided with a report of FRM findings and connection with management resources if desired. Please see the landowner FAQ document [PDF] for more information.

Properties enrolled in Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) or Managed Forest Law (MFL) may already be monitored by this metric, but feel free to reach out if you are interested in learning more. For additional land management resources, please visit the woodland owners page.

Landowner involvement in this program will be key to the success of the FRM monitoring efforts. The more landowners that participate, the more data the DNR will have to inform sustainable forest management.

Resource managers

The Forest Regeneration Metric (FRM) is a more comprehensive measure to assess a stand’s regeneration before or after a silvicultural treatment. The inclusion of height classes to seedling and sapling counts can better:

  • illustrate growth trends;
  • measure regeneration establishment;
  • assess release needs; and
  • forecast stand composition.

Utilizing the metric overtime can also aid in evaluating the effectiveness of different management strategies. FRM additionally assesses deer browse impacts, overstory shading and competing vegetation to provide additional insight on potential obstacles to regeneration success.

The Regeneration Monitoring Program encourages both internal and external partners to incorporate the metric into their regular regeneration checks.

Get involved

If you are a resource manager interested in integrating FRM into your regular monitoring, look to the resources below or contact the Forest Regeneration Program specialist. Opportunities for training events may be available. If you already use FRM or similar protocols to assess regeneration, the program would benefit greatly from data submissions on your part.

By contributing data to the program, you will give voice to the resources you manage in DNR forestry science and policy. These data will be used to create regeneration standards by cover type and produce silvicultural guidelines more tailored to Wisconsin’s forests. The more submissions that are received, the more data we will have to create these products and report on the status of Wisconsin’s forest resources.

Data collection

FRM collects data on a 1/300th acre plot format. Each species' seedlings and saplings are tallied by height class and assessed for severity of deer browse. Additional plot level variables of herbaceous and woody competing vegetation, overstory shading and presence or absence of a deer exclosure are also measured. Please see the protocol [PDF] for full details on how to complete an FRM survey or look to the Silvicultural Handbook reference in Chapter 21, Appendix A [PDF]. Data can be collected either by filling out the field sheet found in the protocol or electronically using Survey123 or Forest Metrix software.

Data reports

The Forest Regeneration Monitoring Program began its first full field monitoring season in 2018.  County-specific data will be published annually in accordance with CDAC data requirements. The first reports were published after the 2020 monitoring season, and 2021 reports are now available as of March 2022. More general reports will be released throughout this period as data becomes available.

If you have interest in certain subset of data, please reach out to the Forest Regeneration Program specialist, and we may be able to put together a report for you.

Monitoring efforts through the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and Wisconsin Continuous Forest Inventory (WisCFI) may also be of interest.