Stumps after a harvest near Trout Lake. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
In an effort to help boost the Wisconsin timber industry, a bipartisan bill that aims to make it easier for community, county and state forests to sell small amounts of timber got a public hearing in the Assembly Committee on Rural Development on Wednesday.
The bill, AB 640 and its Senate counterpart SB 607, would ease the requirements on the managers of publicly owned forests before a sale is held.
Under current law, if a timber sale includes less than $3,000 worth of wood then the sale doesn’t have to be publicly noticed and go through a bidding process. The proposed change would increase that amount to $10,000 or an estimated volume of at least 500 cord equivalents, whichever is less.
Timber sales above the limit are required to have a competitive bidding process that is announced in two notices published in an area newspaper.
Since the current limit was put in place in 1999, the average sale value of timber on public lands has increased from about $18,000 to $63,000. Supporters of the bill say the increase of the limit will make it proportional to the value of the timber and provide flexibility to a struggling state timber industry.
Proponents also say this could help with the management of publicly owned forests because often small timber sales such as these are ignored because it’s not worth the costs associated with the logging and processing necessary.
“In certain instances, being able to quickly work with a contractor is advantageous because they may have the availability or type of equipment that is a perfect match for a smaller timber sale,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Bill Mursau (R-Crivitz) said. “Increasing the limit and adding the flexibility to sell based on volume will enable land managers to capitalize on contractor availability to increase managing minor sales and small tracts of land. While these changes will allow for more flexibility, they don’t require any sale under the limits to be sold direct, leaving the land managers in control of how to best sell their timber.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, a shrinking workforce and the closure of several paper mills in the state have harmed the state’s timber industry, making it more difficult for people to get by in an industry that is shrinking but still employs 64,000 people in Wisconsin.
In addition to assisting a struggling industry, managers of public lands in Wisconsin have to answer to citizens concerned about logging operations near them while balancing the environmental, recreational and economic needs of the forest.
The timber bills were introduced by Mursau and Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), but have a number of Democratic co-sponsors, including Reps. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), Nick Milroy (D-South Range) and Tod Ohnstad (D-Kenosha) as well as Sens. Janey Bewley (D-Mason) and Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick).
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