BY:  – JULY 13, 2022 7:00 AM

Four companies on a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources committee developing new logging rules purchased timber from lakes in Northern Wisconsin in which local residents have alleged that those rules are frequently being broken, documents obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner show. 

For nearly two years, a group of residents who live and work near the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest have alleged that the DNR is authorizing the logging of trees too close to lakes. 

The DNR has a set of guidelines for forestry known as the best management practices (BMPs), which in state forests are required to be followed. The BMPs state that within riparian management zones, a 100-foot buffer from the shoreline, logging can only be done to a certain density. There are also exemptions that call for more conservative or more intensive cutting within the RMZ, depending on the conditions and slope of the soil. 

Northwoods residents Ardis Berghoff and John Schwarzmann have alleged that loggers have been cutting too many trees too close to the shore, which can be harmful to the water, cause erosion and damage the habitats of wildlife that relies on the area. 

The DNR has disputed the allegations and several audits of logging in the region have come to differing conclusions. Berghoff and Schwarzmann, who is the former forest supervisor for the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, have completed their own survey of 15 lakes in the region and found that at nine of them, DNR-approved logging operations violate the BMPs. 

The audits were conducted by third-party certification groups. The certification process is an important part of the industry’s efforts to responsibly harvest trees. The DNR and logging companies rely on certification from groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council to confirm that the forestry operations are being sustainably run. 

For the first time since 2011, the DNR is working to update the BMPs and has convened a Forestry Best Management Practices Advisory Committee to do so. 

The committee’s members include a number of lumber industry employees and after its initial meetings, Berghoff, Schwarzmann and other activists grew concerned that the updated rules would relax the BMP requirements and codify the rule breaking. After a committee meeting in October in which members suggested removing the minimum width required for an RMZ, their fears appeared to be realized. 

The duo has called for a halt to all logging within RMZs while the committee works to update the rules.

“And while your processes laid out seem very thoughtful and you’re covering lots of stages,” Berghoff said in May, “in the meantime, during the rest of 2022 and all of 2023 tracts with RMZs are going to be continued to be cut with the conditions that I’ve just described, and the DNR has the ability to say ‘Whoa, let’s put a halt to cutting in the RMZ.’”

Logging industry representatives on the committee said that taking such measures would cost the companies too much time and money. 

“There is an economic potential and impact to individual loggers that have bid on timber sales,” Bethany Polchowski, a forester for Biewer Lumber, said. “This is their bottom line.”

While industry representatives were worried about halting all work within RMZs as the committee undertakes the years-long process of writing new rules, several of the companies on the committee were purchasing timber from the exact tracts where Berghoff and Schwarzmann have raised alarms, documents show.

Continue at original article in the Wisconsin Examiner