Lands in MFL, FCL now more easy to locate

Madison — There has long been interest in making it easier for sportsmen, and the public, to find lands enrolled in the state’s Managed Forest Law and Forest Crop Law programs that are open for some public uses, and that interest has been met with a new tool on the DNR website that identifies MFL and FCL lands.

That interest was heightened when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an article this summer showing the hurdles the public has to leap to find these lands. A more recent article looked at a specific instance in Langlade County regarding a landowner – lure maker Mike Sheldon – who legally used the existing law to encircle his “open” MFL lands with “closed” MFL lands the public could not cross.

In the past, the lands were available, but people had to go to a local DNR forester’s office for a legal description of the property, and then search out the parcels in a plat book.

But the process has been complicated, because even some landowners get confused about the program they are in, and that the program requires them to allow public access.

The state’s woodland tax law programs provide woodland owners lower property taxes if they follow a prescribed forestry program, supervised by a DNR forester.

Today’s modern MFL program provides landowners with incentives for managing their timber. Benefits to the landowner include lower property taxes. Benefits to society include timber harvesting (jobs and raw materials for industry), wildlife management, improved water quality, a healthy forest, and often public recreation.

To participate, a landowner selects whether to have the land “open” or “closed.” Open means that MFL land is open to the public only for hunting, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing, and skiing without any additional permission needed from the landowner.

FCL is an older program. Land in the program is open only for hunting and fishing.

Driving a vehicle on the land is not allowed, unless specifically allowed by the landowner.

And, landowners do not need to post their land, showing what is open.

If the property is closed, then the public is not allowed on the land, though many landowners allow friends and relatives on the land, which theoretically reduces pressure on public lands.

For MFL properties entered since 2005, landowners pay taxes of $1.67 per acre for land open to the public, and $8.34 per acre for land closed to the public.

To make up for the lower taxes, the landowner pays a timber yield tax on wood from trees in MFL when it’s harvested. Since the tree crop is not harvested each year, this requires landowners to pay taxes, but not until the “long-term” tree crop is ready for harvest.

Regardless of the selection, landowners commit to making a plan and incorporating activities such as harvesting timber, thinning plantations, releasing trees from competing vegetation, tree planting, and preventing soil erosion. All of these activities benefit society in the long run with improved water quality, carbon sequestration, and aesthetically pleasing woodlands.

How to find MFL

In order to find these MFL and FCL lands open to the public, especially for hunting, the DNR introduced on its website prior to the deer season a mapping tool that shows parcels totaling more than 1 million acres that are open to the public.

Go to the DNR website (http://dnr.wi.gov) and enter the search words: MFL open land.

Or for an exact address, go to a search engine and enter: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestLandowners/openToPublicApp.html.

The viewer may select a county and click on the word “view” to receive a list of all of the lands in each township open through MFL or the older FCL.

Then by clicking on the “Private Forest Lands Open to Public Recreation web mapping application,” they will see a button that says “Launch Map.”

Clicking on this link will bring up a map of Wisconsin, showing MFL lands that are open to the public. Just click on the parcels and you’ll get information on the location, plus the name of the property owner (which is helpful when used in conjunction with a plat book) and the name of the DNR forester who works with the landowner.

An aerial map will show the acres open to the public, additional acres nearby, the landowner contact, the name and phone number of the local DNR forester who works with the landowner, a legal description, and longitude/latitude description.

DNR Chief Forester Paul DeLong said the DNR wants to make it as easy as possible for the public to find parcels that are open for public recreation.

“But it is not our final product,” DeLong said. “We are working on something that is more significant. In the long-term we want something where the public can see individual maps, but we are a while away from doing that.”

The foresters are working on the Wisconsin Forest Inventory and Reporting System, a huge system that will not only include the MFL program, but all public lands and more information on the forests.

“In the meantime, this is a great step forward, but we encourage those who are using these open private lands to contact the landowner,” DeLong said.

Contacting the landowner is not required, but can provide several benefits and preclude later problems, such as knowing exact boundaries. Also, because the mapping program is new, there could be errors that show land as being “open” when it might not even be enrolled in MFL or FCL. Some maps in lake areas show unbroken blocks of land enrolled in MFL even though that same area – near the lakes – contains a large number of small, developed tracts that are not enrolled.

If someone finds that the open private lands are marked with “no trespassing” signs or access is denied, they should contact the DNR – either a DNR forester or conservation warden.

If there is a problem, the forester will go back to the landowner to help correct the situation.

In some cases, the landowner may not remember the actual designation of his or her land. The DNR reports that a landowner quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article said he forgot that his land was open to the public, but he had actually enrolled his land in the closed program, so he did not have to allow public access.

Landowners are allowed to change the designation between open and closed, and with 40,000 land records being added to the new database, there is the possibility of an error. So the best advice is for hunters to contact the landowner to get details and access points.

The website is based on land records, and thus the landowners addresses appear without a phone number. People may contact the local forester to get a phone number or get directory assistance through a phone or internet search.

By clicking on the individual parcel that is open to the public, the viewer may also click on the choice for an aerial photo and then see what the land looks like.

Some of these parcels are large chunks of industrial land that people have known about and hunted for many years, so the thought that they’ve been “secret” for years is not correct. But it is the small pieces of non-industrial private woodlands owned by individuals that have been harder to find.

DeLong said the DNR has had it in its plans for several years to work on a system that would make the information easier to access.

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story broke, Gov. Scott Walker asked for a quick response. The DNR came up with this interim tool on the website.

The best way to use the map is to go to the map and look at the county where you want to hunt. Check the parcels that show they are open to the public. See how much land is open and then go onto the aerial photo and home in on several areas. Then contact the forester to get contact information for the landowner.

“I hope that this will help people to narrow their search,” DeLong said. “But it is a courtesy to contact the landowner in advance and find out things like where they recommend to park.

“This is a great program, and one of the benefits is providing public access to a million acres that would otherwise not be available,” he said. “But for it to be maintained we need to make sure those who have it as open are providing access and those who use the land do so responsibly.”

The website indicates that for any problems using the website people should contact Janel Pike (608) 266-2050 or John Wright (715) 365-8915 at the DNR. For information about the forest tax programs, contact Kristin Lambert at (608) 266-8019.

Things to know about MFL

For MFL lands open to public recreation, landowners may:

  • Restrict use of motorized vehicles upon the parcel;
  • Designate an access point or route to the open MFL land. Typically, the public can access open MFL parcels from a public road. When not obvious, public access must be reasonable and clearly identified. Where the public must cross the owner’s non-MFL or closed MFL land, the landowner should identify the public access route;
  • Post signs approved by the DNR to show the access route or identify the location of closed lands;
  • Restrict access within 300 feet of any building or active commercial timber sale (cutting firewood for personal use does not apply) that conforms to the management plan;
  • Grant other uses to the public if the landowner desires;
  • Not deny access to any person;
  • Not restrict the number of people accessing the parcel;
  • Not post signs, which restrict or give the appearance of restricting permitted uses.

When using MFL lands open to recreation, the public may:

  • Access the land only for the purposes of hunting, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing and cross country skiing;
  • Access the land without asking permission;
  • Access the land only by foot unless given other permission by the landowner(s);
  • Use legal hunting methods including baiting and temporary tree stands. Land, trees or other property may not be damaged.

DNR foresters can answer questions about the MFL and FCL programs. For information on the MFL law go to: http://dnr.wi.gov/files/pdf/pubs/fr/
FR0295.pdf.

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