The largest land conservation project in Wisconsin history will preserve 67,000 acres of rare and valuable forest habitat in the headwaters of the St. Croix River and Brule Rivers. The conservation effort is intended to protect clean water, preserve wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities, and support job creation.
Sustainable logging will continue on parts of the protected forest, through conservation easements secured with a timber company that has developed a business model built on preserving ecologically-important land.
According to Lyme Timber Company, its stewardship efforts “deliver vital ecosystem services, including carbon storage, flood control, maintenance of air quality, drinking water supply protection, recycling of nutrients, soil generation, habitat protection, recreation and ecotourism.”
The Conservation Fund and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently finalized the project, adding more than 21,000 acres to 45,000 acres that were protected in the past few years. The lands include 83 lakes and 14 miles of tributaries and trout streams that support the headwaters of the St. Croix and Bois-Brule rivers, 47 miles of hiking, skiing, snowmobile and ATV trails, including a section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, and supports 1,500 jobs in the logging industry.
“The Brule St-Croix Legacy Forest project demonstrates that Wisconsin again has it right: sustainable stewardship of forestland and a healthy environment support local jobs and provide outdoor enjoyment,” Tom Duffus with The Conservation Fund said. The nonprofit organization facilitated the transaction.
The project was funded with state and federal funding, including $3.75 million from the national Land and Water Conservation Fund, a 50-year-old program that invests revenue from offshore oil and grass drilling into preserving national parks, rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges.
The Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest’s “working forest” arrangement allows continued logging and production of paper, wood, and other forest products, helping prevent the land from being split up and sold off for development, but ensures sustainable forestry practices will be used.
“A working forest conservation easement protects not only the open space values of a property, such as wildlife habitat, ecological diversity, and recreational access, but also the economic and community benefits that arise from a forest’s production of goods and services,” according to a 2010 article by Lyme’s managing director, Peter Stein.
Lyme Timber Company uses responsible logging methods, and its properties are certified by third-party organizations dedicated to sustainable forestry. Guiding principles include conservation of areas near wetlands and shoreline, maintaining diverse forests, maintaining scenic qualities, protecting unique or fragile areas, and keeping traditional recreation opportunities available.
Much of the forest in the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest is pine barren habitat. This “globally rare” landscape contains plants and animals that are not found in many other places. It includes sharp-tailed grouse and the endangered Kirkland’s warbler. The barrens were previously covered on St. Croix 360 in this 2014 report: Sharptail Paradise: Land Added to Notable Namekagon Wildlife Area.