Timber Industry, Environmental Group at Odds Over Forestland Tax Break Bill

December 21, 2015

The timber industry and an environmental group are at odds over GOP bills that could reduce public access and increase logging on forestland for which the owner gets a state tax break.

The measures, Assembly Bill 561 and Senate Bill 434, make changes to the state’s managed forestland program, which slashes taxes paid on privately owned forestland when owners agree to a logging plan, adopt sustainable forestry and wildlife management practices, and allow people on their land for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities.

Currently, the managed forestland program requires participants to pay roughly a $2 per acre fee to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forestry fund for every acre they enroll and leave open for public recreation, in lieu of an average $42 an acre in property taxes. The program also allows participants to close up to 160 acres per parcel to the public, and pay an $11 per acre fee to the DNR fund for each closed acre, rather than $42 an acre in property taxes.

The bills, which are sponsored by GOP Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, and Rep. Jeff Mursau, of Crivitz, would keep the tax breaks, but:

  • Abolish the 160-acre cap on closed acreage;
  • Increase to 75 percent, from 66 percent, the amount of northern state-owned forestlands for logging;
  • Give the fees paid by landowners in the program to local governments, rather than the DNR forestry fund;
  • Increase the number of logging plans submitted to the DNR that are automatically approved;
  • Prohibit the DNR from identifying endangered natural areas without the permission of landowners;
  • Prohibit required action by the DNR or landowners on conservation plans to deal with declining native wildlife species that are most at risk.

The measures are supported by the timber industry and forestland owners and opposed by the League of Conservation Voters.

The timber industry contributed about $115,600 to current Republican legislators, who control the Senate and Assembly, between January 2011 and June 2015, including $10,525 to Tiffany and $750 to Mursau.

Tiffany’s top contributors from the timber industry between January 2011 and June 2015 were Richard M. Connor, of Laona, president of Nicolet Hardwoods, $1,900; and Richard Krawze, of Laona, vice president of Pine River Lumber, $1,400.

Mursau’s top contributors from the timber industry between January 2011 and June 2015 were Connor, $250; Krawze, $200; and Edward and Janice Pomeroy, of Crivitz, owners of Pomeroy Wood, $200.

The League of Conservation Voters, which makes direct contributions to candidates through its political action committee (PAC) and sponsors outside electioneering activities, known as independent expenditures, through its PAC and a corporation, spent about $164,000 on contributions and outside electioneering activities between January 2011 and June 2015 to support current Democratic legislators and oppose current GOP lawmakers. The group did not spend any money for or against Tiffany, Mursau or their opponents in the 2012 and 2014 elections.