The Assembly passed a bill 62-32 Thursday that would open up more forest land in a state conservation program to logging and allow more of those lands to be closed to the public.
The Managed Forest Law program, run by the Department of Natural Resources, allows landowners to pay reduced property taxes in exchange for committing to sustainable forestry practices.
Senate Bill 434 and Assembly Bill 561 double the amount of Managed Forest Law land in a given municipality that may be closed to the public at the landowner’s request. It also requires the DNR to act by May 2017 to propose a way to open up more of the land to timber harvesting. It also diverts more than $17 million in fees from a DNR conservation fund to local municipalities.
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About 3.3 million acres are currently enrolled in the program, two-thirds of which is closed to the public.
Environmental groups have registered in opposition to the bill, saying it's a giveaway to timber companies and wealthy landowners. Landowners have complained about not being able to lease enrolled land for recreation.
Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, said the bill is good for anyone who has managed forestland, and will bolster the logging industry.
The Senate passed the bill 20-11 on Tuesday with two Democrats in favor. The bill heads to Gov. Scott Walker for final approval.