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Huge easement protects Iron County forestland; similar buys under threat from Walker's budgetSubmitted: 03/04/2015

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IRON COUNTY - A purchase of about $4.5 million helps protect almost 14,000 acres of forestland in Iron County.

But if Gov. Scott Walker has his way, the state won't be able to spend that kind of money on land purchases again until 2028.

The money to buy a conservation easement on the Twin Lakes Legacy Forest came from Wisconsin's Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The easement will keep the forest mostly unchanged forever, preserving public access and healthy harvest levels.

"This property plays a particularly important piece in the local economy, regional economy, and the state economy in recreation and forest products," said Tom Duffus, the Midwest Region Vice President of The Conservation Fund.

That group buys private lands across the country on a temporary basis, allowing time for states to set up protections on properties like Twin Lakes.

The size of the land under the easement makes it one the five largest in the state.

"It's a very healthy forest," said Joe Mattke, a forester with Steigerwaldt Land Services. Mattke is in charge of overseeing the management of the Twin Lakes property, which produces various forest products.

"A lot of the hardwood pulp from here goes to different mills, like Sappi or Verso, those types of mills," Mattke said. "There's softwood pulpwood that can go to different mills, like Expera."

Wood of different grades goes to various sawmills, as well.

The agreement also protects recreational opportunities on the land.

But the money used to buy the easement could become off-limits soon.

In his budget plan, Walker wants to stop the stewardship fund from buying land and easements for the next 13 years.

That possible change concerns some who work closely with easements like the one at Twin Lakes.

"The only reason why this property was able to be conserved permanently with a working forest easement was because of the Knowles-Nelson state stewardship fund, a very important investment the state is making," Duffus said.

Many Democrats and some Republicans seem skeptical about ending stewardship spending.

In the next several weeks, legislators in Madison will debate whether to conserve state money or conserve forest lands like Twin Lakes.

To learn more about The Conservation Fund, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, or Gov. Walker's budget plan, see the links below.

Related Weblinks:
The Conservation Fund
Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program
Gov. Walker's Budget Proposal

Story By: Ben Meyer

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