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Wisconsin’s largest land conservation project in state history faces roadblocks

The future of the Pelican River Forest is uncertain as leaders debate the project’s economic and environmental impact.

At the center of a proposal to use Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funding to conserve the Pelican River Forest in northwestern Wisconsin is a debate about tax revenue, land use, housing and employment. The project is the state’s largest land conservation effort and funding is being held up because of an objection from a member of the Joint Finance Committee.

Funding for the Pelican River Forest would secure permanent protective status for the land and allow public access and recreation while managing the forest for sustainable logging. Forestry and tourism are vital to northern Wisconsin’s economy and this project supports both industries.

“The lifeblood of the economy in this region is forestry and tourism, and the Forest Legacy and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship programs recognize and support that fact very strongly,” Partners in Forestry Director Joe Hovel told The Daily Cardinal. “People don’t come north to see stumps and blacktop,” he added. “They come here to see blue skies, clean water and lush forests.”

Town and county boards in northern Wisconsin have been meeting to discuss the project. The Town of Schoepke, which borders part of the Pelican River Forest, recognized the value of this project and voted for a resolution supporting the project, while Oneida County will continue to consider a resolution voicing opposition.

The fate of the Pelican River Forest project is at stake. If Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funds are not approved, Wisconsin may not be able to provide the $4 million needed to match $11 million in federal funding that has already been awarded.

“If this opposition succeeds in opposing and killing this project, that federal money, it’s going to go for forestry and it’s going to go to help tourism, and unfortunately, it’s going to be in a different state,” Hovel warned. “It’s not going to be in Wisconsin.” 

Featured image by Ken Mattison, 2016.

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