Douglas County looks to turn storm-downed trees into county forestDouglas County is working to turn disaster into an opportunity to conserve land in the St. Croix Barrens.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Douglas County is working to turn disaster into an opportunity to conserve land in the St. Croix Barrens.
The county still is dealing with the repercussions of two windstorms that decimated about 15,000 acres of county-owned forest land in 2011.
However, the Douglas County Board last week approved using revenue from sales of downed trees to put toward purchasing about 54,000 acres of timberland from the Lyme St. Croix Land Co., the former Wausau Paper/Mosinee timber lands, for managed county forests.
After the storms, the county held special timber auctions in addition to its three annual auctions. The county was able to sell about 90 percent of its tracts, said Jon Harris, director of the county’s forestry department. Smaller tracts were sold over the counter, leaving the county with about 10 tracts it won’t be able to sell. He said it took about 40 salvage contracts to clean up the damaged trees from the 2011 blow-down. About 85 percent of those contracts have been completed.
“It was the largest natural disaster that we dealt with in the county forest that anyone could remember,” Harris said. He estimated the value of the lost timber to be about $2.5 million.
“Most of what we have left is going to be sold for fuel,” Harris said.
He said the county managed to sell $1.9 million worth of timber in its salvage sales by the end of the 2012.
In a typical year, about 70,000 to 100,000 cords are cut from Douglas County forest lands, but last year 143,149 cords — about 11,500 pulp trucks — were cut, Harris said.
“A lot of that was salvage wood that we wouldn’t have sold if it wasn’t laying on the forest ground,” Harris said.
After the storm, the county’s Forestry, Parks and Recreation Committee approved setting aside revenue from the salvage timber sales to meet its reforestation needs and other unknown costs in the blow-down area.
That recovery fund was used to help pay for repairs to access roads, and pay for seedlings for reforestation that will be planted over the next two years.
Now a portion of that fund could be used to purchase additional land.
Historically, the land has been used by the public for recreation, Harris said.
Harris said a conservation easement purchased by the state protects public use of the land. However, 15 parcels, more than 1,000 acres, were left out. The parcels include snowmobile and ski trails and high-quality uplands.
Harris said it’s unusual to be able to pursue such a large acquisition from a single owner.
The County Board approved seeking grant money through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Trail Grant Program and the Conservation Fund to help with the acquisition.
Harris said nothing approved by the board obligates the county to purchase the land unless it is successful in garnering grant money to assist with the acquisition costs.