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Editorial: Logging federal forestland impacts Northwoods economy

7:19 PM, Oct. 19, 2013  |  Comments
A private selective harvest timber sale in Oneida County.
A private selective harvest timber sale in Oneida County.
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Today, we begin "Timber Trouble," a three-part Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team report that delves into the national forest logging debate in the Northwoods. At the center of the debate is the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Some see an economic opportunity lost as harvestable trees are left to rot on the stump, affecting jobs, schools, property values. Others see the forest as a recreational opportunity and ecological wonder and they don't want to see more trees cut down.

It's an issue that Jim Schuessler, executive director of the Forest County Economic Development Partnership, first brought to our attention in December, when the Press-Gazette ran a Guest Commentary from him calling for better management of the forest and the harvest of viable trees.

Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, responded and pointed out that the forest is managed and protected for multiple uses - such as hunting, hiking, biking, camping cross-country skiing - not just for loggers' use.

It represents the difficulty of managing any public land for the enjoyment of all the various interest groups in society.

But for many who live, or have grown up, in the northern counties that comprise the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, it represents a way of life. It's their backyard, not their playground. It's their livelihood, not their hobby.

So when the Forest Service holds the timber harvest to half of allowable quantity in that forest's management plan, residents who have jobs directly, and indirectly, related to the timber harvest are upset.

As the GWM Investigative Team's report shows, in the last 10 years, 755 million board feet of the 1.3 billion board feet allowed have been cut. That represents about $110 million in revenue.

In December, Schluessler wrote that a more aggressive harvest would create 4,000 jobs and a $100 million in economic impact instead of a 50 percent increase in pulp imports in the last 10 years.

Those are numbers hard to ignore, especially when you consider the ripple effect. That $100 million economic impact doesn't just help the loggers, but it also benefits the businesses that outfit the loggers, the companies that buy the timber and convert it to lumber. It could help the schools, where the tax rate has gone up as enrollment and property values have dropped.

Instead, the number of forestry jobs has dropped from almost 700 to 118 between 2008 and 2010 in Forest County, the GWM Timber Trouble report shows.

A workable solution seems to be to increase the timber harvest to somewhere near or at the quantity allowed by its own management plan.

With money tight, the Forest Service should look to partner with federal, state, county and tribal entities to manage an increased timber harvest. We're not calling for thousands of clear-cut acres, but responsible land management that reduces the threat of disease and fire danger while preserving other areas for outdoor pursuits.

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is huge, with more than 1.5 million acres spanning 11 counties, and even if the harvest quota is met, it shouldn't appreciably diminish the recreational and ecological opportunities that others seek.

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