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Sustainable Forestry

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages the state's forestlands for multiple uses following the principles of sustainable forestry.

What is sustainable forestry? It's a holistic approach that aims to maintain forests as healthy ecosystems that will provide economic, ecological and social benefits for years to come. Keeping an ecosystem healthy includes management for wildlife habitat, aesthetics, soil and water quality, native biological diversity, recreational opportunities and forest products. Another important component of sustainable forestry is the periodic harvesting of trees.

Benefits from timber harvests

  • A source of forest products - Trees provide many of life's necessities, including pulp for paper and lumber for our homes and furniture. By practicing sustainable forestry it ensures high quality timber both now and in the future.
  • Sustaining local and statewide economies - Timber harvesting on state forest lands plays an important role in the economies of local communities and the state as a whole. Revenue earned from timber sales is placed in an account which funds programs such as fire control, nursery operations, forest health protection and many other forestry activities.
  • Enhancing wildlife habitat - Timber harvests can create and enhance habitat for wildlife. Animals like ruffed grouse and sun-loving trees like aspen rely on open areas with lots of sun. Other animals, such as snowshoe hare and woodcock, rely on the young, regenerating forest that is present after cutting.
  • Maintaining a healthy forest - When trees become infected with diseases or pests, they sometimes need to be removed to keep the disease from spreading to other trees. Removing weak or poorly-formed trees gives the others additional light and space, allowing them to grow faster.
  • Aesthetics – Visual characteristics, or the forest scenery, is very important to the public who uses the forest and to forest managers who work there. A well planned harvest can leave the forest looking like it wasn’t harvested at all. This is done by avoiding straight boundaries and mixing larger older trees with younger smaller trees as well as other management strategies.

Planning a timber harvest requires looking at the forest's master plan, which is written using detailed inventories of the property's natural resources, strategies for protecting the forest ecosystem and extensive public participation. And, to guarantee that the properties are doing the best they can to meet the standards of sustainability, the forestlands are certified by an independent third party.

Each year, trees are harvested on less than 2 percent of the land under state forest ownership. More than 60 percent of these harvests aim to improve the growth of existing trees through thinning.Stands that are harvested for regeneration purposes are either reforested naturally or with planted seedlings.

The only way individuals can arrange to cut trees on a state forest is to go through that forest's timber sale process. Logging companies and individuals bid on those sales, with sales going to the highest bidders. Harvesting of trees is not permitted outside of this process.