First phase of Wisconsin's largest land conservation deal finalizedThe first half of the largest land conservation deal in Wisconsin history officially closed Friday, protecting 70 square miles of undeveloped forest.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The first half of the largest land conservation deal in Wisconsin history officially closed Friday, protecting 70 square miles of undeveloped forest.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources now holds conservation easements on the forest land in Douglas, Bayfield, Burnett and Washburn counties in an $11.3 million deal spurred by The Conservation Fund.
The 45,000-acre area, now called the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest, includes the headwaters of the St. Croix and Bois Brule rivers and contains 75 small lakes and ponds and 14 miles of streams along with tracts of pine barrens habitat found in few other places.
The land also includes access to 39 miles of hiking, biking, skiing, snowmobile and ATV trails, including a section of the North Country National Scenic Trail.
Tom Duffus, Duluth-based Midwest vice president for the Conservation Fund, called the area a “globally unique ecosystem” and said the deal now connects nearly 1 million acres of conserved landscape, including nearby state and national forests.
The land involved includes habitat for white-tailed deer, black bear, wolves, woodcock and migratory songbirds, including “special species like golden winged warbler, Kirtland’s warbler and sharp-tailed grouse,” Duffus told the News Tribune.
The second phase, another 22,668 acres for $6 million, is proposed for 2014.
The entire deal will cost $17.3 million and will protect a total of 67,346 acres, with the money coming from state and federal funds earmarked for land conservation as well as from private donations.
The land will remain privately owned by New Hampshire-based Lyme Timber and on the tax rolls. But, in exchange for the conservation easement payments, the company must keep the land forever undeveloped and open to public access, including hunting, fishing and hiking. The forest also will be open for sustainable forestry, including logging for the region’s wood products industry.
Keeping large tracts of undeveloped land is also considered critical to maintain habitat for many bird and wildlife species. The move is an effort to stop the land from being divided and sold for recreational property such as cabins and second homes. More than a million acres of forest land, much of it once owned by large paper companies, has been sold in Wisconsin over the past 15 years.
Major contributions – from Enbridge Energy, the McKnight Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation —allowed the group to make a play for the land when it was put up for auction last year, Duffus said.
“This purchase provides much-needed recreational access for the public to hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, skiing, bird-watching, and ATV and snowmobile trails,” Cathy Stepp, DMNR secretary, said in a statement. “It keeps the land in private ownership, generating property taxes and helping keep Wisconsin’s forestry industry strong.”