History of the Wisconsin’s Forests – The Lands Nobody Wanted
Massive timber cutting and land clearing was the name of the game in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. In 1900, Wisconsin led the nation in timber production but by 1915, the forests were gone. The federal and state governments attempted to entice new settlers to come to Wisconsin and convert the cutover areas into farmland. For the most part, that effort failed in the northern half of the State. Because of this, landowners couldn’t pay their taxes and ended up abandoning their lands. This left the counties cash poor because they relied on those property taxes to pay for all the work expanding the road networks, building schools and paying their own taxes to the State. By 1927, over 4.5 million acres had become tax delinquent at least once.
In an effort to correct this issue, the State Legislature, in their incredible forethought, introduced the Forest Crop Law and the County Forest Reserve Law (the precursor to §28.11) which allowed the counties to acquire those tax delinquent lands and establish county forest reserves for their own use. In 1928, Langlade County established the first County Forest and by 1938, just ten years later, there were 24 County Forests totaling over 1.7 million acres.
Fast forwarding to 1963, Governor John Reynolds signs the new County Forest Law (WI §28.10 & 28.11) into law. This becomes the foundation for county forest existence and management. The purpose of WI §28.10 & 28.11 “is to provide the basis for a permanent program of county forests and to enable and encourage the planned development and management of the county forests” and charges the Counties to provide “for optimum production of forest products together with recreational opportunities, wildlife, watershed protection and stabilization of stream flow, giving full recognition to the concept of multiple-use to assure maximum public benefits; to protect the public rights, interests and investments in such lands; and to compensate the counties for the public uses, benefits and privileges these lands provide; all in a manner which will provide a reasonable revenue to the towns in which such lands lie.”