The Department of Natural Resources announced it is poised to make the largest recreational and forest land acquisition in state history, an easement on 67,346.8 forest acres in Douglas, Bayfield, Burnett and Washburn counties from the Lyme St. Croix Forest Company.
The purchase – to be known as the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest -- is located at the headwaters of the St. Croix and Bois-Brule rivers in the state's northwest sands area and contains 80 small lakes and ponds, 14 miles of streams, and a globally significant pine barrens habitat. About 20,000 acres of the purchase are located within the Brule River State Forest boundaries.
"This purchase forever opens access to hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, skiing, bird-watching, ATV and snowmobile trails, portions of the North Country Trail, and extensive habitat for deer, bear, wolves, woodcock, migratory songbirds and grouse," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "At the same time, the land remains in private ownership, on the tax rolls and will be managed sustainably for forestry purposes. It's a win-win for everybody that will help maintain the celebrated forested character of the north."
The state Natural Resources Board will review the proposed purchase at its May 23 meeting. If approved, the department will forward the proposal to lawmakers and to the Governor for final approval.
"Through new standards and prioritizing of our department Knowles-Nelson Stewardship acquisitions, we were able to make sure that we had adequate bonding authority to make a purchase of this magnitude," said Stepp. "We thoroughly assess properties to assure we are getting a good return on investment for the public's money. When we buy land we choose only the best of the best, like the Brule-St. Croix Forest Legacy easement."
According to DNR Real Estate Director Dick Steffes, the transaction is based on two phases. Phase I is for a working forest easement on 44,679.09 acres at a price of $252 per acre, or $11,260,000 from the state's Stewardship Fund. Phase II, also an easement, covers 22,667.71 acres at a cost of $6,007,000. Phase II is proposed as a 2014 transaction. DNR will apply for federal forest legacy funds and use Stewardship. Taken together, the project would protect 67,346.8 acres as sustainable, working forest land permanently open to the public for outdoor recreation.
Working forest (forest legacy) easements ensure permanent public access for recreational enjoyment while the property itself remains in private ownership, keeping property on the tax rolls, allowing sustainable timber harvest practices and minimizing state costs with the low easement versus full ownership cost.
"We applaud the state for recognizing that Wisconsin's natural resources are precious and should be managed in sustainable ways for the benefit of the regional economy and the environment," said Tom Morrow, managing director, The Lyme Timber Company. "Lyme has a long history of owning and managing large forestland properties under conservation easements that provide a steady flow of wood to local mills, regular employment for forest managers and logging contractors, while allowing public recreational access." Morrow credited The Conservation Fund for assisting with the transaction.
The Lyme property provides wood products to 12 pulp, saw timber and telephone pole processing mills and other supporting industries in the region. The Wisconsin forest products industry employs 60,000 workers and provides $18 billion in economic value in wood and paper products. Wisconsin leads the nation in employment and the value of shipments in the forest products industry.
"Maintaining large blocks of working forests is critical to the health of our industry," said Butch Johnson, owner of Johnson Timber in Hayward and Flambeau River Papers in Park Falls. "We've seen the break-up of many of our former industrial forests in Wisconsin, and these conservation easements are invaluable public-private partnerships to meet the needs of the public and protect jobs."
The Lyme St. Croix Forest easement restricts development, requires sustainable forest practices, limits property subdivision and ensures public access as well as protecting the environmental values of the property. With the completion of the Lyme St. Croix easement, more than 200,000 acres of working forest lands have been protected through conservation easements. This preservation effort helps secure materials for the forest products industry for future generations.
In 2010, tourism expenditures in this 4-county area totaled $346,578,723 and supported 8,791 jobs. Statewide, tourism has more than $12 billion in economic impact each year and supports many jobs.
The Forest Legacy Program, which is a strong partnership with the US Forest Service, supports efforts to protect private forest land from being converted to non-forest use. The program encourages and supports acquisition of conservation easements, which are legal binding agreements that transfer a negotiated set of property rights from one party to another without removing the property from private ownership.