MADISON - Wisconsin's forested lands are some of the state's most valuable resources and the Department of Natural Resources is doing a good job caring for them according to audits conducted by SCS Global Services.
Independent, third-party certification means DNR management of its properties meets strict standards for ecological, social and economic sustainability. The words "exemplary" and "superb" were used in reporting audit findings on 1,551,440 acres of state-owned lands.
Department owned lands are certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Both of these nonprofits encourage responsible management of the world's forests. Wisconsin state forests have been certified since 2004 and all other DNR properties were added in 2009.
Both certification programs require annual surveillance audits to confirm that DNR practices continue to conform to certification standards and that continual improvement is being made. Full recertification audits are conducted every five years.
"Forest certification emphasizes the state's commitment to responsible management for a host of ecosystem and economic benefits," said Fred Souba, DNR chief state forester. "Management of multi-use lands involves balancing the goals of conserving forestland, supporting economic activities, protecting wildlife habitat and providing recreational opportunities."
Souba added that forest certification helps Wisconsin remain competitive in the global marketplace where buyers increasingly demand certified raw materials.
Interdisciplinary teams with expertise in forestry, social sciences, natural resource economics and other relevant fields assessed DNR land management practices in August 2016 for conformance to the FSC and SFI standards and policies. Both auditors recently issued reports of their findings. The complete reports are available by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for keyword "Forest certification."
The FSC audit team stated, "DNR personnel interviewed during the audit consistently demonstrated a high level of commitment to forest stewardship of the state lands under their management."
DNR land management is a coordinated effort of the Forestry Division and the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division and, true to form, the audit report recognized "exemplary interdisciplinary and integrative collaboration amongst DNR personnel."
Various goals, driven by the master plan and property type, shape the management of DNR properties. State park lands focus on scenic beauty and recreational opportunities, while wildlife areas help sustain wildlife and natural communities. State forests are managed for multiple-use objectives (including a variety of wildlife habitats, a wide range of forest-based recreation and maintaining healthy forest ecosystems) and also support a majority of timber harvests on DNR properties.
"Forest certification does not imply these lands will be managed more intensively for commercial forest products," said Mark Heyde, DNR's forest certification coordinator. "Certification requires continual improvement on property master plans, habitat for diverse wildlife, facilities management, public involvement and other work of great importance to all Wisconsin citizens. Forest certification audits help to assure focus on these important tasks."
Sanjay Olson, administrator of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division, said, "The collaboration across DNR programs results in responsible management for and stewardship of a robust array of values and resources found on the state lands."
Auditors praised DNR's programs to maintain and improve native biological diversity and address conservation of sites with species of concern. One example they noted was on the Rowan Creek Fisheries Area where a blue heron rookery was identified. Staff installed a buffer and denoted the area in the GIS database.