MADISON - In an ongoing effort to protect and sustainably manage Wisconsin's forests, the Department of Natural Resources is planning changes to increase efficiencies in the state tree nursery program and better reflect its broad spectrum of statewide reforestation duties.
The State Nursery Program, established in 1911, is being renamed the Reforestation Program, to reflect that the program provides multiple services in addition to seedling production, according to Chief State Forester Paul DeLong.
"We have a strong reforestation monitoring program that assesses factors influencing plantation survival rates. Our staff provide a wealth of technical information to landowners interested in improving their lands through tree planting. We have a number of research projects underway and maintain an important education and outreach focus," DeLong said.
The Reforestation Program will merge seedling production into one nursery within the coming year, though the specific location is yet to be determined. There are currently nursery facilities located at Boscobel, Wisconsin Rapids, and Hayward, though Hayward no longer produces seedlings.
DeLong said that consolidating the production at either the Boscobel or Wisconsin Rapids facility will allow for more cost-effective production and availability of high quality native trees and shrubs to meet demand for conservation plantings from public and private landowners. The state produces stock to ensure that an adequate supply of native trees are available to reforest Wisconsin, home to the nation's largest forest products industry and a vibrant forest-based recreation economy.
"Our long-standing Arbor Day free seedling program for all fourth grade students in the state will be maintained," DeLong says.
As part of the consolidation effort, the DNR will release a Request for Proposals this spring for non-DNR groups interested in leasing portions of one or more of the state's nursery properties for reforestation and conservation purposes. DNR expects to maintain offices, storage buildings, and other critical functions at these properties under any potential leasing agreement.
"Our responsibilities are to complement the private sector's production and to work together to ensure the state's forests are healthy, strong and sustained for generations to come. Changing landowner objectives and product preferences, economic influences and lack of strong federal cost-share programs have resulted in fewer trees being distributed from the state nursery facilities in recent years," DeLong said. "Given the important economic, environmental and social benefits all Wisconsinites derive from our forests, it is important that we continue to promote reforestation in the Badger State," DeLong added.
Lease proposals will be evaluated by a team of DNR and external parties based on pre-established criteria to determine whether they meet department needs. The evaluation team will develop recommendations on whether to pursue proposals, if any. This step is expected to be completed by late summer with leasing started potentially as early as this fall.
"In the public's interest we want to ensure the use of these state properties is maximized," DeLong said.
DeLong says the department is committed to work in concert with private nurseries, landowners and resource related businesses and organizations to advocate for healthy and vibrant forests for the future with tree planting being one avenue.