By Art Lersch
Community Resource Development Educator, University of Wisconsin Extension, Lincoln County
County forests add much to the ecological, economic, and recreational vibrancy of many Northwoods communities. Lincoln County benefits in many ways from its nearly 101,000 acres of county managed forestland. Parks and trails in Lincoln County owned forests are managed by the county’s Forestry, Land and Parks Department. The department also manages timber harvests that provide it and the county with much needed revenue to help support other public services. Responsible forest management practices, including planting trees to help replace harvested timber, are part of the department’s normal routine.
The department collaborates with many partners such as snowmobile, horse, and trail clubs to maintain and improve county forest recreational opportunities. Much of this activity would not be nearly as prolific were it not for the efforts of another forest agency called the Wisconsin County Forests Association (WCFA). The WCFA was established in 1968 to facilitate discussion and action on matters affecting county forests. Twenty-nine counties are members of the organization, nearly all located in the northern half of the state. Lincoln County is a long-time member. The WCFA Board of Directors mostly consists of county board supervisors from the member counties. Over the years, especially recently, WCFA staff and board members have raised the standing of the organization throughout the state by becoming a dispenser of accurate, non-biased information on forestry issues. Now more than ever the organization is fulfilling its mission of maintaining “healthy, productive and sustainable” forests.
In 2009, I had the privilege of working with WCFA staff, its board, and county forest department directors to develop the organization’s first ever comprehensive strategic plan. I also helped the organization update the plan in 2012. The plan helped provide the focus necessary for the WCFA to become even more of a leading resource to legislators and others seeking information on Wisconsin’s forests. Other significant goals achieved as a result of implementing that plan were the hiring of an associate director; organizing a tour of county forests for legislators; providing much more education to county and town officials about the benefits of county forests; assisting county forestry departments that are not members of the WCFA (mainly in the southern portion of the state); strengthening partnerships with entities like the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association and the Wisconsin Land and Water Association; and enhancing awareness of what the WCFA does. Most important, prior to the plan the organization often reacted to changes in forest management policy. Now, it is an important player helping to determine what those policies should be. The staff and board deserve credit for making the WCFA a more dynamic, relevant organization.
With so many positive changes taking place in the organization since the plan was approved, the latest challenge for the WCFA is to find ways to expand its relevancy even more. Its leaders have once again turned to me for help in determining how that should occur. Although it is too early in the planning process to know what priorities the organization will focus on in the coming few years, initial discussion about the future of the WCFA in the first planning session has served to re-energize many of its internal stakeholders and the partners taking part in the meetings.
As instability continues in the timber market, funding becomes more tenuous, and the public’s recreation demands increase, the work to ensure sustainable county forests becomes more challenging. Planning for the future is a necessary tool, one the WCFA Board and staff recognizes will help preserve not only the organization but forests throughout Wisconsin.
For more information about the WCFA contact me at Arthur.email@example.com or 715-539-1075. Or, contact the agency’s executive director Jane Severt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-282-5951.