LOGGING THE BRULE RIVER
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
— Aldo Leopold
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
— Dr. Seuss in “The Lorax”
The Brule River State Forest is going through a 15-year Master Plan review. It is also dealing with a state mandate to increase the available acreage for logging. Is this the best use of our public forests? Is it good for the health of the forest? Is it what you would like to see done with our public resources?
In 2015 the Republican controlled Wisconsin legislature passed ACT 358 that directs the DNR to designate 75% of the northern state forests as primarily for logging. The DNR has seven resource management categories; Forest Production, Habitat, Native Community, Special, Recreation, Scenic, and Wild Resource Management. The law requires that the northern state forests collectively adjust these categories so that at least 75% is designated as Forest Production. The Brule River State Forest (BRSF) has had a high percentage of acreage in Native Community management. To meet the overall goal the BRSF will have to change about 14,000 acres to Forest Production from the other management categories.
The designated management category only states the primary management objective of that part of the forest. This does not mean that 75% of the forest acreage must be logged. Areas may have multiple management objectives. Also most of the seven management categories are logged even though that is not the primary management objective. Non-forest production areas are logged if they have mature trees or for other management reasons. Other factors like controlling erosion or protecting an endangered species may limit logging within an area. Logging may be done to promote a specific species or remove an undesirable species.
BRSF has about 47,000 acres. Currently about 11,000 acres are in Forest Production with about 30,000 in Native Community and 2000 in Habitat management. Only 8691 acres are off limits to logging. Most of this is a scenic corridor along the river and a number of smaller biologically sensitive or important areas. This will change to 25,000 acres for Forest Production with Native Community dropping to 15,000 and Habitat to 623 acres. Even with these changes, local staff say the total number of acres logged each year will not increase because of the 75% mandate. Historically about 600 acres per year are logged. In 2014 this increased to 1100 acres. This is only about 2% of the total forest acreage.
This may seem like a very small amount for logging. But forests grow over long time periods. Logging 1000 acres per year in a 40,000 acre forest means everything is logged in 40 years. Aspen can mature in 30-40 years. But other species like white pine, oak, and maple take much longer. Mature old growth forests can take centuries to develop. If all you want is aspen (which is currently by far the dominant species in the BRSF at 21,500 acres) 2% logging works. If you want a diverse, multi-age, multi-species forest ecosystem it doesn’t work. If you want to have big pine, spruce, hemlock, oak, and maple it doesn’t work. If you want to manage for high quality, high value lumber instead of pulp, it doesn’t work. If you, like Aldo Leopold, think not everything is a commodity and economic return is not the only goal, managing 75% of our public resources for logging has many problems.
How you define multiple use is an issue. Are we managing for real multiple use with a good balance for conservation, habitat protection, and non-extractive uses? Or are we managing for a few economically valuable resources and a few select game species? Too often multiple use has meant everyone else being allowed to use what is left after the loggers got the hog share. Only recently have small areas been set aside exclusively for other uses. Multiple use management should include ALL the species that make up a healthy forest (fungi, invertebrates, birds, under story plants, etc.). We should foster a mixed species, mixed age forest and ultimately move toward creating more old growth forests.
Why doesn’t the BFSF have some areas in wilderness? Why not promote old growth in more acres? The forest could become a world class tourist destination. The Brule already is for trout fishing. Why not for huge eastern white pines? People come from all over the world to see the big redwoods, sequoias, and rain forests of California and the Pacific Northwest. Even if economic value is the primary goal, old growth has advantages. In the long run you can make more money off high quality mature lumber trees than pulp.
Another issue is the arbitrary 75% mandate. This figure is the result of political influence. It was not arrived at by careful study of the needs of the forest or any scientific forest management criteria. This is clearly illustrated by reading the news reports. Just prior to the change the logging industry was complaining about the high cost of stumpage. Increasing the available stumpage by harvests on public land would tend to lower prices. The politicians in Madison responded with the mandate shortly after the logging industry complained.
We need a broader understanding of and appreciation for the environment. As Aldo Leopold believed, we need to realize that we are part of nature. Nature isn’t a commodity just for our use. If you hike, ski, camp, canoe, hunt, or fish in our state forests, you need to speak for the trees and all the other plants and animals forgotten in the rush to make money off our public forests.