RHINELANDER - The headquarters of the DNR's forestry division will move from Madison to Rhinelander, Gov. Scott Walker announced on Wednesday.
In an event at Rhinelander's DNR Ranger Station, Walker said it makes sense to move the headquarters closer to state forests and Wisconsin's forest products industry.
"It's not just a branch office--it is the office," Walker said. "The leadership will be here, the team will be here, the partnerships are going to be here."
The state selected Rhinelander after a process that started in 2015. About 40 places in Wisconsin expressed interest in becoming the new home of the forestry division. Forestry becomes the only one of the DNR's five divisions based out of somewhere other than Madison.
"When you just look at the forest products system, so much of it is dependent on people who are either working or located here in the northern part of the state of Wisconsin, so it just makes good sense for us," Walker said.
DNR Chief State Forester Fred Souba will move his office to Rhinelander by December 1. The rest of the leadership team will be in place by January 1, and more workers will come to the city throughout 2018.
"By having the leadership team and the forestry headquarters here, it allows us to have greater interaction and engagement to serve and support the forest industry and forestry stakeholders here in northern Wisconsin," Souba said.
Out of about 450 employees working in the division of forestry statewide, more than 50 work in Madison. Souba couldn't say whether the majority would eventually move to Rhinelander.
"Washington is detached. Madison is detached. Getting [the headquarters] here in Rhinelander with our forestry businesses is very positive news," said Oneida County Board Chair Dave Hintz. "It's good for economic development, it's good to get government closer to the people that they're regulating and working with. Those are very positive issues."
Rhinelander beat out two other finalists, Wausau and Hayward, to become the new base of the division.
Rhinelander Mayor Dick Johns said the city had been working hard to net the choice.
"It's a beautiful thing to happen to our whole area," Johns said. "[It's] hard to make a living up here, but things are happening a little bit better nowadays in regards to the area."
Last year, members of the state Natural Resources Board raised objections to moving the forestry headquarters, citing high cost. A state estimate found that construction a new headquarters building in Wausau, for example, would cost millions.
But Walker said the cost will be relatively low, as employees will work out of the existing Rhinelander DNR Service Center on Sutliff Avenue.
"We're not looking at a major new construction. We're looking at using existing site space here as a way to accommodate them," Walker said.
A provision in the 2017-2019 state budget required the DNR to move at least the chief state forester to northern Wisconsin by January 1.