Listening sessions reveal health of Wis. forest world
Participants noted both strengths and challenges
MADISON, Wis. – Listening sessions with a wide range of participants in the Wisconsin forest world captured a revealing profile of its health, similar to a physician’s notes about health and medical issues during a physical exam. A summary of comments from 11 sessions conducted last year was released by the state’s Council On Forestry in conjunction with its March 22 and 23 meeting.
The picture provided by the comments is of a proud and long established entity that is being increasingly challenged by a rapidly changing world and is also misunderstood by a large part of its own community.
The listening sessions were intended to inform a state and federal Regional Economic Diversification process meant to help guide economic development efforts coordinated by the U.S. Economic Development Agency (EDA). A Wisconsin forest industry consortium is a finalist for an EDA grant of up to $100 million that will be awarded in 2022.
The listening sessions focused on a number of needs that attendees pointed out in the sessions.
You can download the summary from the listening session here.
Some points that participants particularly emphasized in the sessions include:
* The long history of forestry in the state and availability of resources.
* The availability of “infrastructure and equipment for the forest industry.”
* “Strong markets for certain forest products” — made possible by “established and stable sawmills in the state.”
* Sustainable forest management supported by laws and stewardship programs.
* “Collaboration within the industry and good relations between the state and industry.”
* The need for support for forest product mills and for improvements to mills in the state. Participants noted a lack of political support for converting to new and growing product offerings.
* The state is fortunate to have a strong presence of mills using pulpwood but recent mill closures have now left the state with a limited market for pulpwood, making it difficult to practice forestry, particularly in certain regions.
* Growing difficulty in attracting and retaining workers and declining enrollment in training programs driven in part by poor understanding of the forest products industry.
* Limited transportation, particularly for railroad services, and loading and storage facilities.
* High costs, including forest land tax rates (compared to agricultural land).
* Poor understanding and perception of the industry including a lack of knowledge of sustainable forest management.
The Council On Forestry credited partners in preparing the report, “These efforts would not have been achieved without the significant contributions and assistance of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Office of Rural Prosperity, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Forest Products Services program and the University of Wisconsin Extension. Thank you also goes out to focus group participants whose views were used to develop this report and to members of the Wisconsin Council on Forestry and the Strategic Planning Committee for their guidance.”