Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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DNR mulls options for NHAL State Forest

Correspondent

Woodruff, Wis. Six land management alternatives, five wild
resources areas alternatives, four recreation alternatives and two
million people.

The future direction of the Northern Highland-American Legion
State Forest (NHAL) hinges on those vital statistics, along with
the idealogies and actualities they represent. The viability and
implementation of those ideas as the basis for revising the master
plan for the state forest, the product of nearly six years of
research and public input, can be summed up in one word
compromise.

“With two million visitors annually and with a property as large
as ours, I question whether the forest can be all things to all
people anymore,” said NHAL superintendent Dennis Leith, as he
reviewed the abundant contents of the recently released master plan
progress report.

The report represents the current phase of the first revision
process since the previous master plan was prepared 19 years ago
with a goal “to protect, perpetuate and manage the natural
resources of the property by applying accepted management
techniques for the purpose of providing forest products while
maximizing the recreational, educational and cultural benefits for
society.” In reality, the 1982 master plan was weighted more toward
the forest product portion of the equation rather than the societal
benefits, according to Leith.

“The last time a master plan was developed, the main purpose of
the state forest was silviculture, then a bunch of other benefits
came after that,” he said. “The biggest change since then is that
the entire state forest statute 28.04 has changed.

“The emphasis used to be on timber production, but now all of
the benefits have equal primacy. The new statute uses the
principles of sustainable forestry to assure that the state forest
can now, and will continue to, provide a full range of benefits
such as soil protection, public hunting, protection of water
quality, production of recurring forest products, outdoor
recreation, native biological diversity, aquatic and terrestrial
wildlife and aesthetics. I see it as a really good change because
it more accurately reflects how we’re managing the state forest
today.”

The NHAL is Wisconsin’s largest tract of state-owned property
with some 225,000 acres ranging across portions of Oneida, Vilas
and Iron counties in the north-central section of the state. The
Northern Highland State Forest was created by the state Legislature
in 1925, followed four years later by the creation of the American
Legion State Forest in 1929 out of forest reserves in Oneida, Vilas
and Forest counties. The two forests were merged into one
administrative unit in 1968.

Today, the NHAL forest sustains red and white pine, aspen, white
birch, red oak, jack pine, hemlock and a variety of northern
hardwoods such as sugar maple, red maple, yellow birch and
basswood. Aspen accounts for 33 percent of the NHAL canopy, while
red and white pine combine to make up 11 percent.

As the forest continues to grow and develop, the resource users
and public at large are being encouraged to take an active role in
determining the set of parameters defining that growth and
development. The release of the most recent progress report
outlining the NHAL State Forest alternatives offers the public the
opportunity to consider six land management alternatives, four
recreation alternatives and five wild resources alternatives and
arrive at a single “preferred alternative” derived from some
combination of those 15 choices.

“Part of the master planning process will be and has been taking
in public opinion because after all, it is the public’s forest and
we value their opinions,” Leith said. This will include a series of
upcoming public meetings across the state.

“So many user groups and special interest groups are involved,
nobody will get everything they want. There will have to be some
compromise,” Leith said. “We did hold public meetings early on in
the process to get a feel for the different conflicts and issues
and those haven’t changed much. Access to the forest is big
motorized versus non-motorized, that has become an issue.
Recreational development is also a question.”

There also are biodiversity and land-use issues and issues
involving other more specific areas such as old growth forests.

“We’re finding that a great deal of folks want to see some type
of forestry management. Some people don’t want to just leave it
alone, but some do,” Leith said, adding that planners are striving
for a wide range of diversity across the forest as a whole rather
than one big, monolithic 225,000-acre chunk.

That means it’s a matter of maintaining and perhaps expanding
upon the wide variety of ecological landscapes that currently shape
the NHAL natural environment. A regional ecology assessment, one of
four scientific assessments undertaken by the DNR to provide data
for the master planning process, determined that the bulk of the
NHAL State Forest is located in the Northern Highland Pitted
Outwash subsection, while a small portion on the northwestern rim
of the forest sits in the Winegar Moraine subsection. There are
nine ecological landscapes within those subsections Vilas/Oneida
Sandy Plains, Manitowish Peatland, Vilas/Oneida Sandy Hills,
Winegar Moraines, Big Arbor Vitae Loamy Hills, Trout Lake Drumlins,
Kathan Lake Sandy Plains, Rainbow Wetlands (Big Swamp) and Laura
Lake Loamy Hills.

The individual ecological landscapes foster a variety of soil
types which support the current forestry of various trees mentioned
earlier (red and white pine, aspen, white birch, etc.). The unique
characteristics of each landscape necessitate the development of a
master plan that settles upon the appropriate blend of the land
management, recreation and wild resources areas alternatives that
are currently being considered.

Once all of the information gathered through the public meetings
and other sources is digested and assembled into the “preferred
alternative” for the forest, both a draft master plan and an
environmental impact statement will be written, followed by another
public review. At that point the final document will be submitted
to the Natural Resources Board, which has the final decision on its
ultimate implementation as the actual forest master plan. Late fall
of 2002 is when the plan should be implemented.

In addition, the DNR is proposing a possible project boundary
expansion to the NHAL State Forest in conjunction with the overall
property master plan revision process. The proposal calls for a
possible expansion on the north side of the present forest boundary
in Vilas and Iron counties. It would add another 90,000 acres to
the current 345,000-acre property boundary, with about 225,000 of
that state-owned and nearing the acquisition goal.

Public meetings regarding the NHAL State Forest are as
follows:

Fitchburg Community Center, Feb. 27.

Brookfield City Hall/Community Center, Feb. 28.

Boulder Junction Community Center, March 6.

Marathon County Public Library, Wausau Room, March 7.

For more information on the master plan, contact the master
planning program assistant at 715-365-8993 for a copy of the NHAL
State Forest Alternatives or visit the NHAL master planning web
site at http:/www.dnr.state.wi.us/master_planning/NHAL.

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