A consortium of Wisconsin business, local government and forestry interests met in Wausau in August to share thoughts and concerns about the ailing forest industry in Wisconsin. What they heard was frightening for both the economy and the health of the state's abundant forests.
They learned that Wisconsin's $28 billion forest industry is under siege from foreign competition, ill advised regulations, outdated laws and bureaucratic red tape. The majority of our over one million acres of industrial forest land, they note, is no longer owned by a forest products company. Most homegrown forest products companies have either closed or are subject to corporation takeover by national and international interests. And, good paying jobs directly related to the forest products industry are being lost at an alarming rate, with paper machines and sawmills being shut down routinely.
What does this mean to Wisconsin? The members of the organizations - Lakes States Lumber Association, Lakes States Resource Alliance, Timber Producers Association of Michigan and Wisconsin, Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin County Forests Association, Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce, Wisconsin Paper Council, Wisconsin Professional Loggers Association, Wisconsin Realtors Association and Wisconsin Towns Association - say it means the spiraling degradation of an economic sector that has been the foundation of our economy since statehood. It means more than the loss of a few loggers in northern Wisconsin, it means the potential loss of more than 200,000 family supporting jobs directly related to producing forest products and another 200,000 jobs that support the forest industry in nearly every community in the state. It means the potential loss of nearly a billion dollars in state and local tax revenue that supports schools and social programs. And it means the gradual decline in forest health.
As a first step, the consortium has appealed to U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold to initiate and support changes in the national forest policy to promote sustainable forest management of federal forests. In the past 100 years nearly 75 percent of the U.S. Forest Service's 190 million acres of forests have been declared off-limits to thinning and forest health treatments, a letter to Feingold states. Congress and/or the president has designated millions of acres as wilderness areas, roadless areas and a host of other classifications designed to exclude sustainable forest management. A recent U.S. Forest Service survey indicates that a majority of national forest lands in the nation are at high risk of loss to forest fires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks. The only forest land in Wisconsin that is deemed high risk, they note, is the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The trend to exclude cost effective, proven scientific forest management on national forest land must be reversed, they emphasize.
Federal bureaucratic red tape is choking the life from our national forests, consortium members observe. The planning and processes used by the U.S. Forest Service are complicated and costly, and serve only as "a cottage industry for lawyers and a loophole for environmental extremists to advance their national agenda to eliminate logging in national forests."
All the events related to national forest policy that have negatively impacted national forests in the western United States are playing out in Wisconsin, they say. The current Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Plan revision's preferred alternative places more than 40 percent of the forest into land designations that exclude scientific forest management treatments that maintain forest health. Forest management practices approved by the current plan are being challenged by the appeals process, creating excessive and costly delays - ironically delays that are not the products of Forest Service neighbors concerned about national forest management, but the same extremists groups advancing their national agenda right here in Wisconsin.
While the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest comprises only 10 percent of the forest land in Wisconsin, its management has a huge impact on the remaining 14.5 million acres of forest land in state, county and private ownership intermingled with federal ownership. Insects, disease and forest fires know no legal boundary, they say.
Consortium members seek Feingold's help "to stem the spread of bureaucratic paralysis to our national forest land in Wisconsin." They seek the senator's written position on the current Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Plan Revision's preferred alternative and the president's Healthy Forest Initiative that will be debated on the Senate floor this fall. And, they ask to meet with Feingold in the near future to discuss concerns about the health of Wisconsin's forests and the forest industry.
"Failure to stem the current practices will significantly harm our economy, cost many jobs and further degrade the health of our national forests," they observe.