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Brule River State Forest grows

State ownership in and near the Brule River State Forest is growing by nearly 6,000 acres under a land purchase being announced today. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle was to be at the forest's headquarters this afternoon to announce that the state is bu...

State ownership in and near the Brule River State Forest is growing by nearly 6,000 acres under a land purchase being announced today.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle was to be at the forest's headquarters this afternoon to announce that the state is buying 5,889 acres for the forest and a 40-acre easement for the North County Trail west of the forest.

The land was bought from Wausau Paper Mills in December 2006 by the non-profit Conservation Fund of Arlington, Va., then resold to the state for $6.1 million.

The land deal is the largest of several being announced today that would preserve more than 10,000 acres across the state. The Natural Resources Board is due to consider the acquisitions, at a cost of $15 million, at its meeting in Oconomowoc today. If approved, they will go back to Doyle for his signature.

Nearly $13 million of the money would come from the Knowles-Nelson stewardship fund, which sets aside land for public use. Since 1989, stewardship funds have helped protect more than 475,000 acres across the state.

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"I think that the range of the projects here shows the amazing reach of the stewardship fund and how it affects people across the state," Doyle told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an interview Tuesday.

"A healthy environment means a healthy economy and healthy place to live, work" and play, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett said in a news release announcing the Brule deal. "The future of our state is closely linked to our natural resources -- and I'm pleased that, today, that future is looking even brighter with the protection of these great natural areas."

Tom Duffus, The Conservation Fund's Wisconsin director, said that the group applauds the leadership of the state and the willingness of Wausau Paper to undertake the project.

"We're pleased to have played a role in preserving this working forestland and helping the state of Wisconsin to expand the Brule River State Forest," Wausau Paper president and CEO Thomas J. Howatt said.

Other planned purchases include:

  • 2,804 acres for the Mead Wildlife Area for $5.4 million from Consolidated Water Power Co., a unit of Stora Enso North America, a paper manufacturer. The parcels in Marathon and Portage counties are east of the existing 30,000-acre property.
  • 974 acres from the Wilderness Conservation Club for $2.8 million, to be added to the state's existing Lower Wolf River Bottomlands Area, in northwest Outagamie County. The funds are to come from a natural resources damage assessment program funded by paper mills after they polluted the Fox River and Green Bay with polychlorinated biphenyls, which were used to make carbonless paper.
  • 351 acres in southwest Rock County to expand the Avon Bottoms Wildlife Area. The land had been farmed but has been restored to its natural state of prairies, sedge meadows and wetlands and is seen as helping to improve water quality for the Sugar River. The Natural Heritage Land Trust of Madison is giving the land to the state, having obtained it with a $227,000 stewardship grant and $633,000 in federal funds.
  • 160 acres to expand the C.D. Besadny Fish and Wildlife Area in Kewaunee County, which currently has 300 acres in state ownership. The state is buying the land from Lynne and Sharon Busch of Algoma for $480,000.
  • 47 acres for the Big Muskego Lake Wildlife Area for $445,000, with the City of Muskego donating $111,250 for land that includes 1,200 feet of shoreline on Big Muskego Lake in Waukesha County. Owner Richard Leonard, former editor of The Milwaukee Journal, said he and his wife did not want to see the land subdivided for residential use.
  • The state also plans on providing a $257,000 stewardship grant to the Mississippi Valley Conservancy to support the purchase of 452 acres for the La Crosse Blufflands Protection Program above the Mississippi River.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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