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Walker’s budget moves forestry division to Northern Wisconsin

Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

The forestry division within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would move up north under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, and one northern Wisconsin lawmaker said he believes the move will help with recruitment.

The governor’s 2017-2019 budget requires the headquarters for the state's chief forester to move by January 2018 to an existing DNR facility north of state Highway 29, which runs from Eau Claire to Green Bay.

State Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, supports the move. He said some foresters don’t want to work in Madison.

"They like to hunt. They like to fish. They like to be in rural Wisconsin, small town Wisconsin. It was limiting the pool of people that would apply for some of those jobs," Tiffany said. "I think it’s really good to move the division headquarters to northern Wisconsin, and hopefully that will be accomplished here."

The governor’s budget would allow current DNR forestry staff in Madison to relocate to other northern Wisconsin state facilities in phases. The current Madison headquarters employs 56.5 full-time employees in the forestry division. Walker's proposal also authorizes the agency to pay for their moving expenses.

"No timetable has been set, but eventually, (the) existing division of forestry staff located in Madison will have the opportunity to relocate to state-owned or leased space north of Highway 29, as designated by the chief forester," wrote Chief Forester and Forestry Division Administrator Fred Souba Jr. in a recent message to staff. "Such a move will allow division leadership to be closer to the resources we manage and provide more opportunities for direct contact with division field staff, forestry partners and the forest industry."

Bayfield County Forest Administrator Jason Bodine said the move may make state interactions more convenient, although he noted it wouldn’t have an impact on county forest management.

"The DNR provides a variety of different technical assistance to the county programs. Sometimes we travel down. Sometimes they travel up, so the closer you can make that headquarters, the more convenient it is for everyone involved," Bodine said.

In the agency’s 2017-2019 budget request, the DNR estimated moving the forestry division headquarters to Wausau would cost an additional $9 million to $11 million over 20 years if the agency were to construct or lease a facility not owned by the state. The request also outlined Hayward, Rhinelander and Wausau as preferred locations for the division headquarters and projected moving expenses of around $337,500 for staff.

However, DNR spokesman Jim Dick said in an email Monday that many of the budget projections are no longer relevant because the agency will not build or lease an outside facility. He added the DNR has not yet identified how many staff may relocate and to which locations they may move.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. More WPR news is available on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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