New plan for national forest reduces logging, expands ATV access
The planning document was unveiled Tuesday by the U.S. Forest Service and will be used to guide the Forest Service over the next 10 to 15 years.
According to the Chequamegon-Nicolet's top official, the agency tried to balance the needs of a broad spectrum of interests. But because of the controversial nature of the plan, the forest's supervisor, Anne Archie, said she anticipates a court challenge.
"We tried to craft a plan that had something for everyone," Archie said. "But I don't think that we will be able please everybody."
Logging interests want to see more logging and view tree-cutting as a way to keep the forest healthy. Environmentalists want less logging and are pressing for policies that will let the forest mature and become home to a diverse culture of plants and wildlife.
Recreational users have their own agendas. Groups such as the Ruffed Grouse Society, for example, side with logging groups and want to see more tree cutting and re-growth of species such as aspen that are good habitat for ruffed grouse. Enthusiasts of all-terrain vehicles want more trails for their sport.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet covers 1.5 million acres in 11 Wisconsin counties. In addition to its natural charms, the forest and related industries produce 15,100 jobs and payroll of $499 million, according to the Forest Service.
The plan was first made public last summer and has been modified after public comment. Some of the highlights:
ATV use grows
With ATV use booming, the Forest Service is proposing to add up to 100 miles of new trails in the Chequamegon, in northwestern Wisconsin. A total of 284 miles of trails are currently in place.
To protect the land from damage that ATVs can cause, the Forest Service is restricting ATV use only to areas that are marked for their use. The current plan allows ATV users to ride on marked trails and move cross-country in the Chequamegon.
For the first time, ATV users will be able to ride on up to 85 miles of proposed new trails in the Nicolet.
One sign of the emotion surrounding ATV use arose during local elections in February in Vilas County when voters in an advisory referendum rejected a drive by motorized sports enthusiasts to allow ATVs on county-owned land.
ATV use is growing sharply in Wisconsin. The number of registrations has jumped from 113,000 at the end of 1999 to 200,515 in early April, according to Karl Brooks, a warden with the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR says there 1,500 miles of ATV trails in Wisconsin.
Archie said it would take several years to build the new trails, and ATV users, and others, would be asked to provide comment.
ATV enthusiasts like the idea of more trails, said Randy Harden, president of the Wisconsin ATV Association. But he expressed concern that hundreds of miles of unmarked logging roads will be off limits in the future.
David Zaber of the Habitat Education Center in Madison, an environmental group that has tracked the planning process closely, said the decision on ATVs allows too many trails and will make the forest more vulnerable to pests and invasive species that are carried in on the wheels of ATVs.
Of the forest's 1.5 million acres, the agency has earmarked 864,000 acres that are suitable for logging. That is a 7% decline from the last management plan in 1986. The agency also controls timber harvests by setting the number of board feet of wood that can be cut. The plan cuts the maximum amount that can be sold annually by 22% to 131 million feet.
Even with these changes, logging eventually could increase beyond current levels because timber harvests today are below the levels being set by the agency. Loggers, however, are worried about the plan. Gene Francisco, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Loggers Association, estimated the plan could mean the loss of 710 jobs in logging, the pulp and paper industry, and businesses that support them.
"With every planning process, they take more and more land out of what they say is suitable forest," he said. "You wonder if the forest is still a forest, if more than half of it's not being allowed to be cut."
The Forest Service plan also sharply increases the number of acres it will set aside for protection and scientific study, from 71,864 acres to 184,600 acres. There will be virtually no logging in these areas. Trees will be allowed to grow older. Regrowth will be more natural and move away from the plantation-style of pine growth happening today.
The plan calls for the possible expansion of wilderness areas for recreational use as well. The Forest Service proposed designating 15,500 acres as wilderness areas in the northern portion of the Chequamegon. The decision is up to Congress. There are currently 44,000 acres of wilderness areas in the forest.
Zaber said he was pleased with aspects of the plan. The organization has filed suit in federal court against the Forest Service for timber sales in the Chequamegon-Nicolet, but Zaber said the decision to increase, by more than 100,000 acres, land for protection and propose more wilderness areas was heartening.
The Habitat Education Center does not oppose all logging in national forests, but Zaber said it believes the Forest Service is going too far with its current plan.
A copy of the management plan be found at www.fs.fed.us/r9/cnnf