That's a wash for this budget, but here's the problem: When we debate Wisconsin's next budget in 2019 and all state budgets the follow, our relatively modest forestry programs would compete for GPR funding with huge budget items like education, corrections, healthcare and transportation. Shudder. Forestry and its associated fish, wildlife and recreation management wouldn't take a bake seat. Lawmakers would boot it off the bus.
After all, consider how poorly the current regime manages highway projects, even though long-term budgeting for roads involves far more certainties and less coordination than forestry management. Forestry planning extends generations and involves weather market forces and tens of thousands of landowners with wills, LLC's and infinite varieties of acreages and tree species.
So before letting Gov. Walker save each of us $27 we'll never miss anyway, let' acknowledge Wisconsin's forests, woodlands and forest-products industry isn't succeeding by accident. Wisconsin established its forestry mill tax in 1927 to help regrow our forests and woodlands after they were basically clear-cut statewide the previous 50 years.
The mill tax didn't have a sunset provision and Wisconsin's constitution doesn't mandate it be collected. However, our constitution emphasizes the mil tax's importance by requiring its revenues be spent solely for "the purpose of acquiring, preserving and developing the forests of the state and for other specified forestry purposes."
By killing the mill tax, Gov. Walker would side step the constitutional requirement for funding wise forestry management, and make it a mere budget option.
Hunters and anglers aren't fooled. They understand the tradition and importance of designating tax revenues for specific purposes, and protecting it from elected pirates. The Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 and the Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950 guarantee long-term funding for wildlife and fisheries restoration, respectively, by imposing federal excise taxes on firearms, ammos, bows, arrows and fishing tackle. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributes those revenues for conservation work to states based on their land mass and hunting/fishing licenses sales. Wisconsin has benefited mightily from these taxes. The P-R Act, by itself, has provided Wisconsin $305.77 million in conservation funding since 1939, which ranks sixth among the states.
Can you imagine the caterwaul if the president proposed killing the P-R and D-J acts and "replacing" their conservation funding with unguaranteed general taxpayer revenues? No one likes paying up to 11 percent taxes on gear, but hunters and anglers have long supported these programs because they reap the benefits of sustained scientific management.
Wisconsin's forests and their management deserve the same consistent, sustained stewardship that property owners funded the past nine decades. The governor's idea would subject that funding to the whims and beliefs of politicians who don't know poplar from birch, nor spending from investing.
Sound forestry delivers tangibles benefits. Data complied by the Department of Natural Resources show forestry's economic and recreational impacts on Wisconsin in 2012 alone:
- Forestry is the No. 1 employer in seven counties: Iron, Rusk, Forest, Price, Taylor, Lincoln and Trempealeau.
- Wisconsin is the nation's No. 1 paper-producing state.
- Wisconsin forestry-products exports to foreign countries generated $2.3 billion.
- Forestry products shipped to other states generated $14.2 billion.
- Forestry provided 59,600 Wisconsin jobs in forestry and logging, pulp and paper, and sawmills and wood products.
- That labor and products generated $22.9 billion in direct outputs.
- The value-added economic impacts of that labor and products generated $6.4 billion in direct economic impacts.
- Every forestry job supports 3.8 additional Wisconsin jobs.
- Every $1 million of forestry output creates $1.3 million of output in other sectors.
One reason for all that economic clout is the size and diversity of Wisconsin's forests, woodlands and individual owners. Trees cover about 46 percent of Wisconsin, or roughly 16 million of its 34.7 million acres. Individual landowners account for about 57 percent of that forested land, and nearly two-thirds of them seek DNR forestry advice. Each year DNR foresters provide technical help to over 8,000 landowners, including 2,000 new contacts. That support includes expertise in ecology, hydrology and biology; and forest health, economics and products.
Those are partnerships worth applauding. In fact, 37 percent of Wisconsin's privately owned "family forests" have a DNR-approved forest-management plan. In contrasts, only 4 percent of their family-forest counterparts in Michigan and 10 percent in Minnesota have such plans with their DNRs.
And make no mistake: We all have a stake in this. The DNR recently calculated the average Wisconsinite uses about 1,664 pounds of wood annually, or roughly one 18-inch wide log that's 25 feet long. That big log provides your paper, newsprints, tissue, paper towls, building supplies and more.
Wiscoinsin's forests and woodlands aren't all about logging, pulp mills and wood products, either. They're home to fish and wildlife, and fun places for recreation, whether it's hunting, fishing, boating, camping, hiking, bicycling, canoeing, showmobiling or riding ATVs.
A 2013 DNR study found that visitors to parks in Northern state forests alone spent about $41 daily ranging from $19 per trip for runner/joggers to over $267 per day for wildlife watching. In 2014, for example, admissions, camping and trail-pass fess in Northern state parks generated $1.28 million.
No matter how we look at Gov. Walker's proposed "tax cut", it's bad business. And at $27, it's not even enough to tip Ralph for the Chippewa Tavern's beer and pizza.
Nancy Bozak, Administrator for the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association published this Alert on February 20, 2017.
"The DNR Forestry Program has been an important partner with the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association since WWOA's founding in 1979. Governor Walker's budget proposal to eliminate the Wisconsin Forestry Mill Tax and shift DNR Forestry funding to general purpose revenues (GPR) will jeopardize this stable funding sources which has supported the DNR Forestry Program for almost 100 years. WWOA strongly opposes the elimination of the Forestry Mill Tax and encourages those interested in the stewardship of our natural resources to make your views known to your Wisconsin legislatures."
see the "Open Letter to Wisconsin citizens and legislators", attached