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If you have questions, contact:
Kristen Tomaszewski
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Statewide Forest Action Plan Part 1: AssessmentCriterion 6: Socioeconomic benefits of forests and their ecosystem services

Major conclusions

The area of the Assessment focusing on socioeconomic benefits of forests and their ecosystem services draws nine major conclusions based on the data.

1) The total value of all forest products harvested from Wisconsin forests slowly declined from a peak in 2000

The 2008-2009 recession exacerbated a decline. As the economy rebounds, the industry is expected to recover but not necessarily with the same players or mix of commercial products as before. New markets for certified wood, biomass and bio-fuels could influence growth.

  • Wisconsin remains the number one paper producer in the nation, a position it has held for over 50 years. Although the paper sector experienced mill closures as a result of global competition, it still reports $13.8 billion in shipments and nine percent of Wisconsin's manufacturing value of shipments.
  • Of five forest products sectors, wood furniture manufacturing suffered the most substantial (-35 percent) decline in shipments due to overseas competition.
  • The total forest products industry payroll dropped 31.6 percent after adjustment for inflation since its peak in 1996. Employment dropped by about the same amount (30.5 percent).
  • New markets are developing in biomass, bio-energy and recycled material, presenting the paper sector with both challenges and opportunities.
  • Growing demand for certified wood products from responsibly managed forests helped stabilize paper and solid wood sectors in the Great Lakes region due to a concentrated supply relative to the rest of the country, according to industry executives.
  • Wisconsin harvests more of its forest growing stock per year than is consumed by its residents, providing evidence that the forest products industry as a whole is an export industry that brings in new dollars into Wisconsin's economy.

2) Forests remain highly relevant to the state's economic health and are influenced by public policy

  • Recreational use of forests is estimated to contribute approximately $5.5 billion to the Wisconsin economy through travel-related and equipment expenditures. Trends in forest-based recreation point toward an increasing economic benefit over the next decade.
  • Wisconsin's forest products industries remain a vital component of the state economy, comprising 13.8 percent of the value added in all manufacturing sectors.
  • Wisconsin's wood products sector shipped $20.5 billion of product in 2006. Of this, 67 percent was from the paper sector.
  • Wisconsin's forests produce valuable ecological services like carbon storage and regulated water flows that may provide additional economic returns to Wisconsin landowners if related financial exchanges continue to develop.
  • Wisconsin's urban forests annually provide over $64 million in environmental services including carbon sequestration, air pollution mitigation and energy savings that could be an effective tool to help address climate change and energy independence. Recycling city trees salvaged from pest outbreaks, storms or other factors into valuable forest products may offer opportunities for additional economic benefits and help keep wood out of landfills.
  • Wisconsin forests provide native tribes with non-timber forest products to make their life-way and places to practice relevant cultural activities.

3) The statewide forest management system will need to make changes in order to operate effectively with reduced funding and smaller workforce

Two major components of the forest management infrastructure are stable funding that supports governmental forestry operations and grants for private forestry initiatives, and a well-educated workforce (traditional government funding sources have dropped and the forestry workforce is decreasing).

  • Two major state forestry account policy changes--the first reduction in the mil tax rate since 1937 and a greater share of the account for purposes other than DNR forestry operations--may reflect a shift in public values relative to forestry and other economic concerns. This change could signal a reduction in rural and urban forestry programs that rely on public funding and a need for more private initiatives.
  • Federal forestry funding also fell or is more difficult to acquire. For example, states must compete for 15 percent of state and private forestry funding that was previously appropriated. 2008 federal fire grant funding was 50 percent of the total from five years previous.
  • Forest management positions will see over 50 percent of the workforce turn over in the next decade due to the baby boomer generation entering retirement and at a time when the number of forestry graduates in the lake states is declining. The shortage could result in prolonged vacancies, increased labor costs or acceptance of less qualified replacements.
  • The forest products industry employs over 68,000 people but the number of jobs and the payroll in the wood products industry have fallen 30 percent since 1996. While new forest-based industries may emerge, it is not clear if they will employ as many people as in the past.
  • One of the weakest links in the responsible forestry chain is the status of the logging sector. The average logging firm has been in business for over 20 years and the average firm owner is 47 years old. There are relatively few new firms entering the sector. Among firms with employees, over 85 percent reported difficulty finding skilled and reliable workers.
  • DNR has met the target number of positions trained to lower level positions in fire readiness operations and command. A training gap analysis shows significant shortages in higher level command, operations, planning and logistics positions.
  • Forestry research programs are not integrated across agencies, but due to limited resources partnerships for research and coordination of efforts are all the more crucial. Private research done by forest industry also declined sharply after large industrial owners began monetizing their land base through sell-off to other ownership structures, shifting more research responsibility to other partners.

4) Private land ownership patterns are changing and forest land values are increasing, which makes it difficult to keep forests as forests

Industrial land holders selling large forest blocks off in small parcels are one of the largest factors influencing this change.

  • Statewide, average forest land values increased from $311 per acre to $2,438 in the last seventeen years, an annualized increase of 12.9 percent compared to a 2.8 percent annualized inflation rate over the same period.
  • Total non-industrial private forest acreage rose 14.2 percent and forest industry ownership fell 51.5 percent during the 38 year span (1968-2006) as land was transferred to other ownership categories.
  • The average non-industrial private forest parcel shrank from 37 acres in 1997 to 28 acres in 2006. The number of small parcels less than 50 acres grew; parcels in the smallest one-to-nine acre category nearly doubled and area in ownership categories over 100 acres dropped.
  • The portion of land owned by forest products companies fell from 62 percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2008 after transfer primarily to real estate investment trusts.

5) Changing land ownership patterns and forest land values affect the ability of landowners and resource agencies to effectively and efficiently address management on the ground

Small non-industrial private forest parcels are challenged to maximize their economic returns due to operational inefficiencies. Landscape scale management becomes more complicated as the parcel size decreases. The overall number of MFL parcels is increasing the demand for plans and stressing the supply of service providers.

  • The number and acreage of MFL entry orders more than doubled in ten years. The increase was not uniformly distributed but rather focused in some areas of the state, locally intensifying assistance shortages.
  • The State Legislature revised the Managed Forest Law requiring landowners to pay for land management planning services from private foresters rather than receive free planning assistance from DNR. About 20 full-time equivalent forester positions within DNR were shifted from private forestry to public land management duties.
  • The number of cooperating forester firms grew from 73 in 1999 to 127 in 2009, about a 74 percent increase. The number of foresters available in those firms rose about 83.5 percent over the same ten-year period.

6) As budgets are tightened, some public land management has been deferred

  • As captured in forest certification reports, the state is struggling to complete property management master plans, collect biotic data, maintain roads and infrastructure, control invasive species and address other critical public land management duties.
  • Implementing Act 166 (legislation mandating timber management and harvesting on state properties) is a challenge for many small state properties that do not have master plans addressing timber management.
  • While 457,962 acres of public land were purchased with Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds since 1990, an often overlooked corollary is that per acre budgets for land management have shrunk. In the DNR Division of Land, overall funding per acre dropped almost 50 percent between 1990 and 2007 and was further reduced during the 2008-2009 recession.
  • As DNR resources fall, decisions are being made to limit operations such as service center operations, facility maintenance, recreation opportunities and education programs.
  • The reductions for the DNR Urban Forestry program decrease the amount and type of aid available for communities all across Wisconsin in their efforts to sustainably manage their urban forests. This affects 80 percent of Wisconsin's population right where they live.

7) People are changing behavior based on their environmental beliefs, which are being reflected in state programs and policies

  • There is an increasing trend of buying more certified products. 76 percent of consumers expect to spend the same or more on green products this year.
  • In 2004, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle issued an Executive Order directing the Department of Administration to establish state building standards based on green building design specifications that include use of certified wood. Construction analysts forecast overall green building markets for both non-residential and residential construction will more than double between 2009 and 2013.
  • Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program was reauthorized as part of the 2007-2009 state budget for a ten-year period. The annual bonding authority was increased from $60 million to $86 million for this additional 10-year period.
  • Wisconsin has established over 600 state natural areas, perhaps the most successful program of state reserves in the country.
  • Between 2004 and 2009, Wisconsin achieved third-party forest certification on over seven million acres, 44 percent of the state's forest resources. DNR led the effort through bipartisan support in the State Legislature to fund certification audit costs and program improvements.
  • Private land trusts and conservation organizations like Gathering Waters Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy that have protected over 300,000 acres in Wisconsin illustrate how public-private partnerships are essential to achieving land conservation goals.
  • The prospect of reduced property taxes compels many people to enter into conservation easements with land trusts, but in practice there has been wide variation in how easements are considered by assessors across the state (thereby reducing the effectiveness of easements as a conservation tool).
  • The federal Forest Legacy Program is effective at leveraging other funds for conservation easements. For example, five properties totaling 52,377 acres were protected with conservation easements valued at $25,751,000 using $11,400,000 in Forest Legacy funds.
  • Many communities from all across Wisconsin utilize some type of memorial tree program to aid their tree planting efforts. These donations provide valuable funding for new trees.
  • Public demand for recycled products helped to drive a change in paper production. Based on 2003 figures, about 41 percent of Wisconsin paper and paperboard products were recycled materials and that will likely increase. In 2009 a record-high 63.4 percent of the paper used in the U.S. was recovered for recycling.

8) Managing the supply for forest based recreation opportunities is difficult to plan for due to shifting demand

Technological trends and landownership changes evolve quickly and are hard to keep pace with. It is difficult to measure the ecological, economic and social effects of various types of recreation. Without an evaluation and monitoring system, making decisions regarding recreation is challenging.

  • Continued growth in ATV and related motorized recreation is expected as technology improves, generating demands for more trails and increased maintenance costs for existing trails on both public and private land.
  • Primitive or tent-camping on state-owned land is extremely popular but the supply of desirable campgrounds is not meeting the need.
  • In our health-conscious society where more people are engaging in outdoor recreation, trail shortages (especially for hiking, bicycling and equestrian use) were identified across the state.
  • Based on experience with MFL and changes in state trespass laws, private landowners are allowing less public access to their property. A statute change in 2007 that prohibits leasing of closed MFL land is also restricting the supply of private land available for hunting leases.
  • Although the state enacted an Outdoor Activities Grant Program in 2007 intended to purchase easements and land for outdoor recreation, the program remains unfunded in the 2009-11 biennium due to the economic recession.
  • Friends groups help public land managers by addressing some of the deferred management such as facility development, invasive species control and naturalist programming.

9) Certification of forest lands continues to be an opportunity for landowners and industry

  • About a third of U.S. certified land and 53 percent of FSC-U.S. certified land are located in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
  • Certification of such a large amount of Wisconsin's forests enhanced the state's ability to market forest products and likely helped reduce the economic impacts to the state's forest products industry from the current global recession, based on testimony of state forest products company executives.
  • If certification of Wisconsin forest land is to continue to grow, the greatest opportunities reside in national forests and small family forest owners who do not have MFL plans. Some industrial MFL owners with about 765,000 acres who were excluded from the original MFL group program may now be interested in joining a DNR-sponsored certification program.
Last revised: Monday September 28 2015