Pelican River Forest easement threatened with funding hold
Funding was previously approved unanimously
Funding for a big piece of the financing for a conservation easement on the large Pelican River Forest was threatened by a “hold” placed anonymously on state funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund by a member of the Wisconsin Legislature.
The $4,028,000 funding had been approved by a unanimous vote of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board and was headed to the Joint Finance Committee for approval. The Pelican River Forest total purchase area of 70,000 acres was acquired by The Conservation Fund last year with the expectation it would sell easements on the land. The easement sale was intended to prevent development on the land and provide for public access to the land. Other easement funding has been received from the federal Forest Legacy program, which works to retain working forests. This project was ranked second nationally in the Forest Legacy competition.
Much of the 70,000 total acres is in Oneida County. It includes 50 miles of roads that would become available for public use. The easement plan would also provide for a $1 million endowment for road maintenance.
The area includes a huge presence of lakes, rivers, and streams, including the headwaters region of the Wolf River system. Another main emphasis of the easement is to provide timber availability for the forest products industry.
Jim Lemke, Real Estate Section Chief for the Department of Natural Resources, said that real estate taxes on the property will not change based on the easement purchases, with the new landowner(s) being required to pay taxes.
The anonymous “hold” by Joint Finance Committee member can be lifted by the aggrieved member, or by a committee vote after a hearing on the issue, according to Wisconsin officials.
Gathering Waters, a Wisconsin conservation group, said the anonymity of the Joint Finance Committee process lacks the “most basic elements of good governance” — there is “no transparency” and “no accountability.”