Monday, June 11, 2012

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Purchasing 60,000 acres of hunting land

MADISON – The Department of Natural Resources is poised to make the largest recreational and forest land acquisition in state history, an easement on 67,346.8 forest acres in Douglas, Bayfield, Burnett and Washburn counties from the Lyme St. Croix Forest Company.

The purchase – to be known as the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest -- is located at the headwaters of the St. Croix and Bois-Brule rivers in the state’s northwest sands area and contains 80 small lakes and ponds, 14 miles of streams, and a globally significant pine barrens habitat. About 20,000 acres of the purchase are located within the Brule River State Forest boundaries.

“This purchase forever opens access to hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, skiing, bird-watching, ATV and snowmobile trails, portions of the North Country Trail, and extensive habitat for deer, bear, wolves, woodcock, migratory songbirds and grouse,” said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “At the same time, the land remains in private ownership, on the tax rolls and will be managed sustainably for forestry purposes. It’s a win-win for everybody that will help maintain the celebrated forested character of the north.”
The state Natural Resources Board will review the proposed purchase at its May 23 meeting. If approved, the department will forward the proposal to lawmakers and to the Governor for final approval.

"Through new standards and prioritizing of our department Knowles-Nelson Stewardship acquisitions, we were able to make sure that we had adequate bonding authority to make a purchase of this magnitude," said Stepp. "We thoroughly assess properties to assure we are getting a good return on investment for the public’s money. When we buy land we choose only the best of the best, like the Brule-St.Croix Forest Legacy easement."

According to DNR Real Estate Director Dick Steffes, the transaction is based on two phases. Phase I, to be reviewed at the May 2012 Natural Resources Board meeting, is for a working forest easement on 44,679.09 acres at a price of $252 per acre, or $11,260,000 from the state’s Stewardship Fund. Phase II, also an easement, covers 22,667.71 acres at a cost of $6,007,000. Phase II is proposed as a 2014 transaction. DNR will apply for federal forest legacy funds and use Stewardship. Taken together, the project would protect 67,346.8 acres as sustainable, working forest land permanently open to the public for outdoor recreation.

Working forest (forest legacy) easements ensure permanent public access for recreational enjoyment while the property itself remains in private ownership, keeping property on the tax rolls, allowing sustainable timber harvest practices and minimizing state costs with the low easement versus full ownership cost.

“We applaud the state for recognizing that Wisconsin’s natural resources are precious and should be managed in sustainable ways for the benefit of the regional economy and the environment,” said Tom Morrow, Managing Director, The Lyme Timber Company. “Lyme has a long history of owning and managing large forestland properties under conservation easements that provide a steady flow of wood to local mills, regular employment for forest managers and logging contractors, while allowing public recreational access.” Morrow credited The Conservation Fund for assisting with the transaction.

The Lyme property provides wood products to 12 pulp, saw timber and telephone pole processing mills and other supporting industries in the region. The Wisconsin forest products industry employs 60,000 workers and provides $18 billion in economic value in wood and paper products. Wisconsin leads the nation in employment and the value of shipments in the forest products industry.

“Maintaining large blocks of working forests is critical to the health of our industry,” said Butch Johnson, owner of Johnson Timber in Hayward and Flambeau River Papers in Park Falls. “We’ve seen the break-up of many of our former industrial forests in Wisconsin, and these conservation easements are invaluable public-private partnerships to meet the needs of the public and protect jobs.”

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