Digging Into the Forestry Grass Roots

by Dick Hall

There's a problem that has nagged foresters for decades. Mention it to members of the wood using industry and you can read concern in their eyes. Legislators have never found a solution to this dilemma.
    The problem is that less than one third of Wisconsin's 260,000 woodland owners practice forestry. In other words, more than two thirds of the owners of woodlots know neither the value nor future potential of their resource.

    That's alarming since private woodlots power the state's wood using industry, clean everyone's water and air, provide homes for wildlife, add beauty to the landscape. The health and productivity of woodlots effect us all.

    Now there's a new way to address this problem. You're just beginning to hear about it. It doesn't involve legislation or regulation or government programs. It's a grassroots community based organization called Wisconsin Family Forests (WFF).
    To understand how WFF works requires a change in conventional thinking. Forget about thinking statewide in scope. Think township in size. Most townships cover about thirty-six square miles and represent our smallest unit of rural government.
    If there is an average township, and I doubt if one can be found, it would be half wooded and be made up of several hundred owners, not several thousand. Most owners would not be active woodland managers and less than two percent would belong to forestry organizations.
    Here's where the person to person philosophy of WFF shines. They believe this size area and small population base represents a cohesive unit to effectively practice and promote sustainable forestry and ecologically sound land management.

    After all, many persons, even those living on opposite sides of the township, know one another. Their kids go to the same schools. They have woodlots of common tree species with similar management and marketing opportunities. There is no outsider mistrust sometimes associated with commercial forestry.

    Once organized and committed to enhancing the forest resource the members become an alliance of the WFF parent organization. The Deerfield Township Alliance in Waushara County is two years old, has over 200 members, and conducts education programs that attract woodland owners from outside the township.
    The Washington Island Alliance is committed to managing a unique forest resource base to sustain a local sawmill and produce value-added products. Several other townships are in the organizational stage.

    The advantages in becoming a WFF Alliance are many. Combining small properties into a single timber sale means higher returns for all. Skidders, power pruners, herbicide applicators and other specialized equipment may be shared at a fraction of the cost. Forestry services may be contracted at savings to all.

    Neighbors become better acquainted. They get together for social events. It's easier to spark interest from owners who haven't practiced forestry. Special landscape features in the community become focal points of preservation. Community-wide wildlife plans can be implemented.
    WFF is a proven winner. To get your township involved write: Wisconsin Family Forests, P.O. Box 682, Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54495-0682. They'll send a startup information packet.
This article was printed in the Newspaper Country Today under the title Family Forest group cultivating forestry's grass roots.  Date:  Wednesday December 12, 2001.          back