Forest assessment details attributes and challenges for Wisconsin woods

Forests generated more than $24B in economic output, according to the latest data

University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum (Photo by: Richard Hurd)

The first step in a Wisconsin forest plan conducted every 10 years is a comprehensive look at a broad range of data available about all of the state’s forests. This assessment (totaling 107 pages) was released in draft form in early September. It should be the basis for formulating a plan for the state government’s role in Wisconsin forests.

The strategic plan will be drafted in early 2020 and be submitted by June. The plan is required for Wisconsin to qualify for forestry program funding under the federal farm law.

“It aims to assess a large amount of statewide data to paint a broad-scale picture of Wisconsin's forests and the factors affecting them,” according to Tricia Hillner, of the Wisconsin DNR.

The draft assessment paints a picture of a forest showing continued growth. Growing stock exceeds 22 billion cubic feet and shows a steady increase in both softwoods and hardwoods. Tree growth is outpacing removals so the total number of trees continues to increase.

But the assessment reports a range of concerns, among them:

  • Oak regeneration is a concern, based on a number of factors.
  • Similarly, red pine is experiencing increasing harvest activity and slowing regeneration. This may lead to a shift to other species.
  • Deer browse may result in “inadequate regeneration” of some species, according to the draft assessment.

The report lists a series of forest pests that pose a threat to Wisconsin woodlands. They are:

  • Emerald ash borer
  • Gypsy moth
  • Heterobasidon root disease (mainly affecting red and white pine)
  • Oak wilt
  • Beech bark disease (mainly in Eastern Wisconsin)
  • Invasive, non-native earthworms

Economic output from Wisconsin forests totaled $24 billion in 2016. More than $17 billion of that economic activity was concentrated among paper mills and related facilities (paperboard, paper bag, treated paper and sanitary paper mills). The number of mills grew by 11 in the aftermath of the financial crisis. However, by 2013 the number of mills in the state was still down 37 from 2003. There are 238 mills in Wisconsin currently, according to the report.

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