In 'historical change,' nine top DNR forestry staff members now work in Rhinelander; more on the waySubmitted: 07/05/2018
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

In 'historical change,' nine top DNR forestry staff members now work in Rhinelander; more on the way
RHINELANDER - More than 40 communities in northern Wisconsin competed for a state government prize last year.

Each wanted to be the new home of the DNR's forestry headquarters, which was considering relocation from Madison. Last fall, Gov. Walker announced Rhinelander had won that prize and staff would begin moving to the city.

Chief State Forester Fred Souba was among the first to make the move.

"Obviously, this is a historical change, to move a division outside of Madison," Souba said Thursday.

Nine DNR forestry staff members have moved from Madison to Rhinelander. By next February, the number of new forestry workers in Rhinelander should be 18, according to Souba.

Forestry is the only DNR division based outside of the capital. The change draws the division closer to the bulk of the forests and timber producers in the state.

"Being here in a northern location, in Rhinelander, which is ideal with the majority of the northern forests around this location, it's been great for us to be closer to those customers," Souba said. "The fact that we're in the community, the fact that we're here, helps a lot in our understanding and building those relationships versus the phone call."

Phone calls are now rarer between DNR administrators and groups like the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association (GLTPA).

The GLTPA is based in Rhinelander, just a few minutes' drive from the DNR headquarters, making in-person meetings easy.

"What I'm seeing now is I'm seeing issues get resolved a lot quicker. We have much better access to the decision-makers, basically," said Henry Schienebeck, the executive director of GLTPA. "We can Skype, we can get on the phone, but face-to-face meetings are usually still the best, at least in my opinion."

Those top administrators have been working from Rhinelander for months. By early next year, Souba expects the number of forestry staff based in Rhinelander will reach 23, including existing staff.

Right now, more than 50 forestry staff members work at the former headquarters, GEF 2 in Madison.

"When we're all said and done, we'll probably cut that number in half, close to half, in GEF 2, as we look at opportunities to bring people north that would be better fitted to be in the forestry headquarters," Souba said.

Former Rhinelander Mayor Dick Johns, who helped bring the headquarters to the city, said the number of employees moving here is smaller than he expected.

But local lawmakers Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said they weren't surprised by the progress so far.

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