Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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State wants crack at national forests

Correspondent

Madison-The state of Wisconsin currently manages or assists in
managing 3.2 million acres of state and county forests across the
state. Now it wants to use its expertise on federal lands.

State Rep. Don Friske (R-Merrill) announced to the Governor’s
Council on Forestry, at its June 17 meeting, that he and 24 other
legislators sent a letter to the White House requesting that the
federal government develop a pilot program allowing the state DNR
to also manage U.S. Forest Service lands in the state.

This would add 1.6 million acres currently in the Nicolet and
Chequamegon national forests (NCNF) to state management. The
proposal calls for the federal government to transfer management
positions, funding, and responsibility for managing from the Forest
Service to the DNR.

The request stemmed from an Assembly Task Force on forestry that
Friske chaired, which had an interest in the management of the
national forests in Wisconsin.

The letter indicated the reason legislators are proposing the
change now is that they’ve looked at the preferred alternatives of
the management program for the state’s national forests, and
they’re concerned that the plan calls for setting aside land for
passive forest management in the name of enhanced recreation.

“We do not believe that the proper middle ground has been
found,” the letter states. “Active management in NCNF has been the
key to achieving healthier forests since these two forests were
first established in the 1920s.”

The authors note that the forest products industry generates
more than $28 billion in economic activity and is a leader in
payment of wages. That industry is now considering leaving
Wisconsin because of the restrictive access proposed by the
national forest plan.

The legislators back up their proposal with the fact that
Wisconsin’s state forests were recently certified as being managed
sustainably by both the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the
Forest Stewardship Council. The proposed switch of jurisdiction
could bring third party certification to land currently being
managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Friske said that something similar had been done in Arizona and
the new forest certification speaks to the exemplary way in which
state forests are being managed.

“If you look at third-party certification, we have two
independent, internationally recognized boards of certification
that have said that the Division of Forestry has done a superb job
of managing state forests,” Friske said. “We don’t know where the
national forests would rank.

“It is my opinion that removing the ability to harvest as a
management tool on timber in the state of Wisconsin has no
scientific basis,” he said.

State legislators signing the letter included Friske; Sen. Ron
Brown; Rep. John Ainsworth; Rep. John Gard; Rep. Scott Gunderson;
Rep. A.J. Hines; Rep. Sue Jeskewitz; Rep. Bonnie Ladwig; Rep. Terry
McCormick; Rep. Phil Montgomery; Rep. Ann Nischke; Rep. Al Ott;
Rep. Lorraine Seratti; Rep. Becky Weber; Sen. Ted Kanavas; Sen. Bob
Welch; Sen. Dave Zien; Rep. Judy Krawczyk; Rep. Mickey Lehman; Rep.
Dan Meyer; Rep. Terry Musser; Rep. Carol Owens; Rep. Jerry
Petrowski; Rep. Scott Suder; and Rep. Mary Williams.

One of the justifications for the proposed change is that
Wisconsin’s forests are certified by independent third party
organizations. This designation, that the forests are being managed
sustainably, could have economic, ecological, and social impacts
throughout Wisconsin.

End users, such as Time, Inc., the large purchaser of printing
paper, want to be able to ensure that the fiber used in their paper
is coming from woodlands that are certified as sustainable.

Paul DeLong, Wisconsin DNR Forestry Division administrator and
chief state forester, said certification puts an independent stamp
of authenticity on the state’s commitment to sustainably manage all
the products the forest provides. These include recreation, wood
products, wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and protection of
conservation values.

There is a growing demand for forest goods that are certified as
sustainable. To meet the demand the DNR believed it needed forest
raw materials certified by third-party auditors.

Certification of state forests was recommended by the Governor’s
Council on Forestry and approved by the Wisconsin Natural Resources
Board.

“In effect, the certification is a public statement throughout
the world that state forests in Wisconsin are sustainably managed,”
DeLong said. “We will have to track certain things and will be
audited annually and be re-certified every five years. It also
means our products are eligible for chain-of-custody certification,
and we will see if purchasers target our timber sales to get
certified wood.”

The state sells timber on a competitive bid basis, but as
suppliers look for more certified wood, it could make state forest
timber sales more attractive.

“I am pleased that two independent certification organizations
evaluated what we do and used words like superb’ and exemplary’ to
describe management of our state forests,” DeLong said. “It says a
lot about those who came before us and laid the foundation.”

The next group of lands to be looked at for possible
certification will be county forest lands, and the possibility
exists that after that may come consideration of private lands
enrolled in the state’s Managed Forest Law program.

Certification is voluntary, and if these lands are deemed
certifiable, only those landowners interested in participating will
be included.

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