$8.3 million buys conservation easement in Forest County

Madison – It was a sunny afternoon on Thursday, June 24, when
Gov. Doyle, DNR_Secretary Matt Frank, staffers, and members of The
Nature Conservancy visited Wabikon Lake in Forest County to inform
citizens that the state bought a conservation easement on 18,438
acres around the lake for a price of about $8.3 million.

Doyle said the easement – while it doesn’t purchase the land
outright – prevents any commercial development in the future.

However, the land will continue to be logged, and will remain
open for outdoor recreation.

The state purchased what’s called a State Forest Legacy easement
on 18,438 acres of land in Forest County from Wisconsin Timber
Associates, a company owned by members of the Connor family. At the
same time, The Nature Conservancy bought the adjoining shoreland on
Wabikon and Riley lakes.

The easement requires that the forest lands be managed for
sustainable timber harvest, wildlife benefits, hunting, fishing,
bird watching, and all other outdoor activities. It is not a sale
of the land; it is a sale of the rights to develop the land and
change it from the current uses of the land, Frank said.

The lands are enrolled under the Managed Forest Law and have
been open to the public for outdoor recreation in the past. Franks
said the land will remain open to the public. Using Knowles-Nelson
Stewardship funds, the cost to the public is $8,297,163. This will
be a 10-year bond issue.

What won’t happen is the division, sale, and development of the
property to a myriad of owners. Wild shorelines will stay wild,
large tracts will not be broken into small lots for hunting cabins
or weekend retreats, and the timber base, which has been
disappearing at a hastened pace in recent years, will stay intact,
said Mary Jean Huston, state director of The Nature
Conservancy.

The timber will still be managed as it has been for many decades
and will provide jobs and raw material to local forest products
industries, Frank said.

The Nature Conservancy made the second purchase, which is of the
land bordering much of Wabikon and Riley lakes. The purchase
consists of 656 acres of shoreline. It is contiguous to the lands
that are now part of the Forest Legacy easement. According to
Huston, Wabikon and Riley lakes hold the highest rank in the state
for their natural values.

Huston said The Nature Conservancy is known for saving wild
places from development.

The Nature Conservancy’s shoreline acquisition will be paid for
by money raised by, or borrowed, by TNC, which will sell the
property to the U.S. Forest Service. The group will help the Forest
Service get funding through the federal Land and Water Conservation
Fund. When paid by the Forest Service, TNC can retire its debt or
use any extra money for the next saving of a unique property.

At the ceremony at the Wabikon Lake boat landing, Huston, said,
“In Wisconsin, forests are an important part of our economy and
central to our way of life. This project will ensure that a
beautiful and diverse landscape of forests, rivers, and wild lakes
remains undeveloped yet productive land, keeping it intact for
wildlife and the enjoyment of future generations.”

In the case of Wabikon and Riley lakes, The Nature Conservancy
raised and paid $2.8 million to Wisconsin Timber Associates.

The Connor family could have made more from developing, but
chose the more environmentally sound course, Huston said.

The Forest Legacy easement on the 18,438 acres includes
high-quality hemlock hardwoods.

“This land is a highly productive northern hardwood, and The
Nature Conservancy has acquired frontage on Wabikon and Riley
lakes, in a complementary transaction,” DNR_Real Estate Director
Dick Steffes told the Natural Resources Board when the board
approved the purchase during its meeting on June 23.

Wabikon and Riley lakes are in the headwaters to Green Bay.

The DNR easement will allow public access for all outdoor
recreation, including hunting, fishing, and trapping, and the
owners of the land have a sawmill in Laona that will continue to
produce local jobs from the working forest.

The land, located in the towns of Nashville, Lincoln, Laona, and
Blackwell, is surrounded by national and county forest.

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