Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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MI: More timber harvest is sought for forests

Iron Mountain, Mich. – Counties and towns in northern Michigan
and Wisconsin intend to “coordinate” their way to more timber sales
on national forest land, or take back national forest lands and put
that acreage into county forests.

Whether the local governments in either state will be successful
remains to be seen, but Michigan and Wisconsin state
representatives and senators at a July national forest land
management hearing in Iron Mountain, Mich., said the hearing was
the first step in gaining federal attention in an attempt to get
more timber harvest on national forests in the Great Lakes
states.

Minnesota representatives and senators were invited to participate
in the hearing, but a week-long state government shutdown there
prevented them from attending.

The word “coordination” is the first key to increasing national
forest timber sales, said Wisconsin Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst,
and Michigan Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. Tiffany and Casperson
worked together to set up the hearing at the Breitung Town Hall
near Iron Mountain.

In some federal language and laws, the word “coordination”
translates into a government-to-government meeting between local
governments and the federal government.

Jay Verhulst, of Arbor Vitae, Wis., is a member of the Foundation
for Common Sense. He explained how small towns have “invoked
coordination” with federal agencies – he used the Environmental
Protection Agency as an example – to force those agencies’
representatives to travel to those towns or counties for
meetings.

After the hearing, Tiffany, who is also a town supervisor for the
town of Little Rice, Wis. in western Oneida County, said that town
“invoked coordination” about two years ago with the
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and was able to get former CNNF
Supervisor Jeanne Higgens to travel to Little Rice for
meetings.

Who travels where is just a small part of using coordination to
local governments’ advantage, Tiffany said. The biggest reason to
coordinate with the federal government is to force
government-to-government discussions on issues. In that way, local
governments can – in the case of national forests – train the
federal government’s focus on local issues and away from national
environmental groups that typically are clamoring to shut down
timber sales.

“There are two clear problems. First, the national forests are not
meeting their (harvest) quotas. Second, those (harvest) quotas have
been reduced to such an extent over the years that even if we met
the quotas, (the annual yield) is not where it needs to be for
sustained timber management. That means a loss of jobs to local
communities, and a loss of habitat for wildlife that attract
sportsmen,” Tiffany said.

“The discussion is more than just timber harvest. There is the
habitat issue, access issue, impact on local governmental services
and how this affects schools, towns, and counties. It has this
ripple effect through the local communities,” he said.

Casperson and Tiffany also were joined by Michigan Sen. Arlan
Meekhoff, R-30th District, and Wisconsin Rep. Jeff Mursau,
R-Crivitz. All four acknowledged that local town budgets are
negatively affected by reduced timber sales on national forests.
Years ago, when counties in both states transferred county forest
land, gained through tax delinquency – often from fleeing timber
barrons – to the federal government to create the national forests,
the exchange granted all townships with national forest lands an
annual share of timber sale proceeds. As timber sales have declined
during the past 25 years, so have the payouts to the towns.

After the hearing, the legislators said that getting timber sales
back to pre-1982 levels – or even close to that – would go a long
way toward providing jobs, adding to the tourism economy by
bringing in more hunters, giving young adults a reason to stay in
the Northwoods, and reduce local property taxes.

More than 100 people attended the hearing, many of them loggers who
have heard this before, but with no results. They wanted to know
how this quartet of politicians was going to make a difference this
time around.

Meekhoff said it’s going to take a combined effort of not just
local politicians, but also loggers and sportsmen, and town and
county officials who go to their federal delegates, the Forest
Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Obama
administration.

“We have to make sure our federal officials know there is
opportunity here in the national forests, and that we are here to
use the resources wisely,” Meekhoff said.

Casperson and Tiffany began working on a plan the week after the
conference.

“We’re going to start on the Michigan side in Lansing to get a
resolution written and signed, and we’ll send that off to
Washington,” Casperson said. “We’re also going to continue working
on our coalition – Minnesota has an interest. The more states we
can pull together, the better off we are. Then we have to get the
attention of our federal delegates. The (federal) departments, like
USDA and the Forest Service, have a lot of strength. We need big
numbers of federal delegates involved.”

In the long run, if nothing changes, Tiffany, Casperson, and the
timber industry are preparing to demand the federal government
return those originally transferred lands back to county
management.

“The last step is getting the land from the national forests to the
counties,” Tiffany said. “That idea has been talked about before,
but no one has researched it. I have asked the governor’s liaison
in Washington D.C. to begin researching those transitional
documents. It’s been talked about, but this research has to be
done.”

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