May 29, 2022 |Lindsay White | Forests

Believe You Me, Wisconsin Forests Benefit People and the Planet

It’s a fact: well-managed forests can be both economically viable and ecologically sustainable. Protecting forests supports local economies, keeps timber jobs intact, and ensures recreation access for people. Forests also provide wildlife habitat, clean water and the power to combat climate change.

Our forest conservation work is important in all 50 states, and especially so in Wisconsin, where forests predominate the northern and central landscape. The state’s forest products industry provides more than 64,000 full and part-time jobs and has a total industry output of $24.5 billion and value-added of $7.1 billion.

Forests are also one of our most important climate change mitigation strategies because they store carbon and absorb atmospheric emissions. Wisconsin’s forests hold about 1.162 billion metric tons of carbon, where carbon is predominately stored in the soil and also in the live trees.

Let’s take a closer look at three forest conservation projects in Wisconsin to appreciate their benefits to the environment and economy.

Pelican River Forest

Photo by Jay Brittain .

Pelican River Forest is located within Wisconsin’s North Central Forest and Northern Highlands bioregions. There are 68 miles of rivers and streams, 27,000 acres of forested wetlands and dozens of ponds scattered throughout the property. From the hardwood forests along the ridges to the tamarack and tag alder swamps of the swales, the property embodies the iconic forests of the Great Lakes region.

Photo by Jay Brittain .

Keeping this forest intact is critical to maintaining connectivity to other managed and conserved forest lands and protecting this habitat for iconic species like wolves, American marten, black bears and bald eagles, as well as countless other birds and plants of conservation concern. Protecting this forest will provide a conservation connection between national forest land to the northeast and county-owned forests to the southwest. This bridge will permanently secure important habitat corridors for wildlife and link recreational trails vital to the local economy.

The Conservation Fund purchased the 70,000-acre Pelican River Forest in 2021 to safeguard this large, forested landscape, which at the time was Wisconsin’s largest privately owned, unprotected block of forest. Now, our interim ownership will ensure the carbon-capturing forest, sustainable jobs and beloved public recreation benefits will stay secure while we work with our local partners to permanently protect the property.

The Conservation Fund team stands in front of sustainably harvested basswood in Pelican River Forest. Photo by Nick Snyder.

Pelican River Forest plays an important role in our fight against climate change by storing approximately 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e)—comparable to the emissions from 4.1 million passenger vehicles over the course of a year. Over the next five years, the forest could remove up to 640,000 MTCO2e from the atmosphere.

Photo by Jay Brittain.

Pelican River Forest’s abundant streams, ponds and wetlands are also a critical source of clean water for communities in the upper Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, and they support water-based recreation like boating and angling that contribute to Wisconsin’s nearly $8 billion annual recreation economy.


Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest

Brule-St. Croix Forest. Photo by Coldsnap Photography.

In 2015, the Fund and our partners completed the largest land conservation effort in Wisconsin history to date, facilitating the purchase of a conservation easement from the Lyme Timber Company by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This working forest conservation easement ensured that the 65,807-acre Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest would remain a vibrant and sustainably managed forest for generations to come.

The easement preserved nearly 14 miles of tributaries and streams and approximately 83 small lakes and ponds located within the headwaters of the St. Croix and Bois Brule Rivers. It also ensured public recreational access to 39 miles of hiking, biking, skiing, snowmobile and ATV trails. In addition, the conserved acreage provides globally significant pine barrens habitat for many game and non-game species including sharp-tailed grouse, white-tailed deer, black bear, woodcock and numerous migratory songbirds.

The easement also guaranteed the sustainable stewardship of the forestland, keeping the property in private ownership and on the tax rolls while supporting local jobs.

Sustainable forestry in action at Brule-St. Croix Forest.


Twin Lakes Forest

Photo by Devin Leonarduzzi (Quincy Aerial).

Located at the divide between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes Basin, 14,000-acre Twin Lakes Forest is a 2-hour drive from Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota, making it an attractive destination for a variety of outdoor pursuits.

About a decade ago, the property went up for sale and was threatened by subdivision and seasonal home development. Twin Lakes is almost completely surrounded by county, state and national forests, so this would have removed a key piece within a vast network of conserved forestland and wildlife habitat. It would also have negatively impacted the region’s forest product and outdoor recreation economies.

Working in tandem for many years with the Wisconsin DNR, The Conservation Fund purchased the 14,000-acre property in 2014 through our Working Forest Fund® program. In 2015, the Fund permanently prevented subdivision and development of the property by securing a conservation and public access easement now held by the Wisconsin DNR.

Photo by Devin Leonarduzzi (Quincy Aerial).

This easement protects the property’s sustainable timber supply and local jobs, which is significant because the property is estimated to provide more than $19 million in economic impact annually. It also bolsters recreational uses and protects habitat for game species such as black bear, ruffed grouse and white-tailed deer, as well as the Federally protected Eastern wolf.

The Conservation Fund owned and sustainably managed Twin Lakes Forest through our Working Forest Fund program, always with the eventual goal to transfer the property, once protected, to a private landowner. With its sale to a private investor in August 2021, Twin Lakes Forest remains conserved and available to the public for recreation in perpetuity.

“Forests are a lot like books, you can’t judge them by their covers or from what you see from your car window. We know that each and every forest has a story, and our intent through the Working Forest Fund is to ensure that story has a positive ending. Here at Twin Lakes Forest, we helped to ensure that wood will continue to be cut sustainably, property taxes will continue to be paid, and access for outdoor recreation will improve. That’s a happy ending for a forest.”

- Clint Miller, Central Midwest Regional Director of The Conservation Fund

Written by

Lindsay White

Lindsay White is a Senior Land Protection Specialist with The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund®. She supports the implementation of the Working Forest Fund’s conservation strategy, working on the conservation easements and dispositions that protect each project’s conservation and economic values. She earned a Master of Forestry degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a BA in English from Duke University.