Timber sales spike in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest; administrator calls it 'great news'Submitted: 09/18/2017
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

Timber sales spike in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest; administrator calls it 'great news'
RHINELANDER - Between 2004 and 2013, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) sold and cut just above half of what it could under its own management plan.

That frustrated loggers, politicians, and companies which need timber in northern Wisconsin.

But this year, the CNNF will sell its greatest amount of timber since at least the mid-1990s. It's the fifth increase in a row for the CNNF, which is now finally nearing its maximum yield.

"Oh, it's absolutely great news," said Forest Supervisor Paul Strong.

Strong credits new powers under the 2014 federal Farm Bill, Stewardship Contracting and the Good Neighbor Authority.

"Both of those have played a large role in our ability to increase our timber program from what we could do when we didn't have those authorities," he said.

The Good Neighbor Authority has allowed the Wisconsin DNR to manage the sale of about 25 million board feet of timber per year in the CNNF, timber that otherwise might not have been sold.

"[With regard to] the Good Neighbor Authority, we would not be able to make the progress we have if the State of Wisconsin, the Division of Forestry of the DNR had not stepped up and said, 'We're going to jump in and we're ready to do that in a big way,'" Strong said.

The sales and harvest numbers keep ticking up, and Fiscal Year 2017, which ends in two weeks, could reach 123 million board feet. The Annual Sale Quantity under the forest's management plan is 131 million board feet annually. As recently as 2013, the CNNF sold just 68.6 million board feet.

Strong believes those timber sales numbers will stay right around the forest maximum.

"We'd like to minimally be able to stay where we're at. If circumstances work out with funding, staffing, and working with partners that we can do a bit more, we'd be happy to get that done as well," Strong said. "What we want to have is a timber program that's sustainable."

Strong is concerned about the amount of the U.S. Forest Service budget going to fighting western wildfires and how it impacts funds to his forest.

"The trend is not good," he said. "A number of years ago, [fire control was] less than 20 percent of our budget. Now it's more than half. It's projected that it could be as much as three-quarters. When your budget cap is fixed, that squeezes all of the other resource programs that the American citizens want to have delivered.

Strong hopes Congress finds a way to keep more money in healthy National Forests for things like his timber program.

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