State land could see more logging

By Dean
Bortz
Editor

Madison — If Gov. Jim Doyle does not veto from the
Legislature’s proposed budget a call for increased logging on state
lan, the DNR could see as much as $10 million per year in new
revenue beginning in 2007 or 2008.

Rep. Don Friske (R-Merrill) drafted a budget motion calling for
the DNR to set up timber sales that will cut all of the available
annual yield on state forests and other state-owned lands.

Friske said DNR foresters are 170,000 acres behind on timber
sales through 2005. He said the governor’s budget would have cut 40
more forester positions, and that would have deepened the
backlog.

Friske’s plan puts 35 of those forestry jobs back into the
DNR.

To free up more time for those 35 foresters and all other
foresters already on staff, Friske wants landowners entering the
Managed Forest Law (MFL) program to hire private foresters to
prepare land plans that are now being written by DNR foresters.

Putting DNR foresters back into the field to set up timber sales
— sales already approved through long-range master plans — will
start putting money into the DNR budget for forestry work and fish
and wildlife programs. Friske estimates that could reach $10
million per year. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau puts the number
closer to $6 million per year.

Friske first offered his idea during a March 14 sportsmen’s
forum in Minocqua. Since then, he has worked with retired DNR chief
forester Gene Francisco to complete his plan.

Francisco was in charge of the DNR’s Bureau of Forestry during
part of the time the current backlog of 170,000 acres was created.
Francisco retired when Doyle was elected. Doyle appointed current
DNR chief forester Paul DeLong to Francisco’s former post.

“I’ve been well aware of this (backlog) for a long time, but
could never get the resources,” Francisco said. “I would have
gotten it done if I had been allowed to stick around long
enough.”

Francisco is now the executive director of the Wisconsin
Professional Loggers Association.

“It’s a win-win, I think,” he said. “This will help develop more
wildlife habitat, maintain healthy forests and provide revenue, not
only to cover forestry costs, but also to defray the cost of
running fish and wildlife programs.”

Friske said the change can be looked at as a style of “alternate
funding” for the DNR. The Conservation Congress has been working
for years to find a source of alternate funding — like a
percentage of the sales tax — to help fund the DNR and reduce the
need for painful license fee increases. The bad news is the
increased stumpage won’t arrive in time to assuage the need for a
license fee this year.

“I’m estimating it to be about $10 million, but we won’t see it
for at least two years,” Friske said.

This money should have been hitting the DNR budget every year,
but was not being collected because the full scale of timber sales
were not being set up, he said. With hardwood pulp prices recently
as high as $116 per cord, the DNR was losing out on a lot of
revenue.

“The DNR, I think, has over the years not seen their timber as
an asset to be managed and cultivated as an asset,” Friske said.
“We’re just simply trying to turn that thought process around and
allow the foresters to do what they’re trained to do. Once I showed
the JFC and other legislators that this revenue stream is real, and
that we’re not operating outside of the master planning, it was
easy. It received a 16 to 0 vote.”

Friske said much of the timber sale backlog was created because
DNR foresters are mandated to write MFL plans, by state law, for
private landowners. As land values and real estate taxes increased
during the past few years, more and more landowners sought to enter
the MFL program to gain tax breaks. That put added pressure on the
forestry staff and took them away from field work.

“This redirects foresters onto state land to take care of the
backlog while building the private forester capacity. It also
creates a revenue stream that can be used to alleviate needs for
more habitat stamps and increased sportsmen’s fees. Loggers can
assist us in managing forests and improving habitat,” Friske
said.

Francisco said timber sales are set up for two reasons — to
thin stands so remaining trees have room to grow, and to get a new
stand established. In either case, that translates into habitat
work, he said. “Wildlife thrive on new growth, even threatened
species like the gold-winged warbler, and timber wolf,” he
said.

Timber sales also create jobs.

“For every 25 to 28 cords of wood that’s cut, it’s one job in
Wisconsin,” Francisco said. “We should be able to harvest 250,000
cords per year. That’s 10,000 jobs. Even if we’re only half right,
that’s still 5,000 jobs.”

He said a harvest of 250,000 cords annually would equal about 40
percent of wood available for harvest each year.

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