Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Conserving our Legacy of Forests

by Drew Hanson
A version of this article appeared a decade ago as the cover story of Mammoth Tales.

Forest areas in north central Wisconsin were permanently protected from development in 2002 under a landmark easement. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the landowner, Tomahawk Timberlands, led the effort to protect 35,000 acres of working forest. The conserved areas are in several large blocks.

The State’s easement with Tomahawk Timberlands ensures the following in perpetuity:
·         the land cannot be subdivided into smaller parcels;
·         development of buildings is not allowed;
·         public hunting, fishing, and hiking are allowed;
·         sustainable timber harvest can continue.

Preventing the subdivision and development of these 35,000 acres means that road densities will remain low and a more natural setting remains for critters to thrive and pedestrians to explore.

One of the bigger blocks protected by the easement is along the Ice Age Trail in western Lincoln County. A separate 1999 easement protected only a narrow strip for almost five miles of Ice Age Trail through this property. The 2002 easement, known as a forest legacy easement, adds another level of protection to a much larger area around the Trail.

Almost 70% of forests in Wisconsin are privately owned. During the past couple of decades, our forests have been increasingly subdivided into smaller parcels and developed. At the same time, some companies that own forestland are being bought out by interests that do not necessarily share our love of and livelihood from Wisconsin’s forests. Should these trends continue into the decades ahead, we could expect vast areas of forests to be subdivided and developed.

The Forest Legacy Program is here to help. A private land conservation program administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the Forest Legacy Program provides financial assistance primarily for the purchase of conservation easements on forested lands. WDNR and private land trusts, such as The Nature Conservancy and the Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust, are leading the implementation of the program in Wisconsin.

The voluntary program leverages private and other public funds to provide Americans with a bigger bang for their conservation buck. In 2001, over 700,000 acres were conserved across the nation using $60 million from the Forest Legacy Program to protect forestlands with a value of $151 million.

Funding for the Forest Legacy Program is provided on a project-by-project basis by Congress.

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