October 20, 2021

The Conservation Fund Buys the Largest, Unprotected Forest in Wisconsin

ONEIDA COUNTY, Wisc. — The Conservation Fund announced today its purchase of 70,000 acres of forestland in northern Wisconsin from The Forestland Group. The national nonprofit’s purchase provides time for the development and implementation of permanent conservation easements on the land with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that will secure public recreational access and sustainable forest management for timber production. 

Located an hour north of Wausau, the property, now referred to as Pelican River Forest, is currently the largest privately-owned, unprotected block of forest remaining in Wisconsin. Under its management, The Conservation Fund will safeguard wildlife habitat and water quality while continuing sustainable timber harvesting and traditional recreational uses like hunting and fishing. Pelican River Forest will remain privately owned and on the tax rolls.

President and CEO of The Conservation Fund Larry Selzer remarked: “Ensuring the permanent protection and sustainable management of large, existing forests is not only essential to the local communities for jobs and recreational enjoyment, it is also one of the most effective strategies we have right now to combat climate change. Our purchase of Pelican River Forest is the first step in securing the future of this important working landscape so it can continue to provide economic, ecological and climate benefits for generations to come.”

Over the last 20 years, The Conservation Fund has worked with private and state partners to protect over 113,000 acres of farms and forests in Wisconsin, including the 65,800-acre Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest with the DNR in 2015.

The Conservation Fund’s latest acquisition was possible through its Working Forest Fund®, dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests. In 2019, The Conservation Fund worked with Goldman Sachs to issue the nation’s first green bond dedicated to conservation in the United States. Capital from the bonds and a loan from the Richard King Mellon Foundation were utilized in the purchase.

“The Forestland Group is pleased to participate in the protection of the Pelican River Forest watershed through this transaction which provides positive ecological and financial outcomes,” said President and CEO of The Forestland Group Blake Stansell. “The long-term conservation of these environmentally sensitive natural forest systems is critically important, and we appreciate our longstanding and successful history of working with The Conservation Fund to achieve this type of favorable result.”

Featuring 68 miles of streams and 27,000 acres of forested wetlands, Pelican River Forest straddles the Continental Divide and supports water quality in the upper Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. The permanent protection of the Pelican River Forest will ensure habitat connectivity between the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and county forests for iconic species like wolves, black bears and bald eagles, as well as species of conservation concern, including the state-threatened spruce grouse, northern goshawks, black-backed woodpeckers and red crossbills.

The Conservation Fund and DNR are aiming to protect roughly 12,000 acres of Pelican River Forest under a conservation easement as early as the end of 2021. The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program (funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund), and private philanthropic support will be key funding sources for the protection of the remaining forestland of high conservation value. Once the forests have been placed under conservation easements, The Conservation Fund will look to sell the encumbered land.

As one of the nation's top land conservation funders, the Richard King Mellon Foundation’s legacy is etched across every state—with over 4.5 million acres of environmentally sensitive areas protected throughout America.

“Wisconsin is blessed with wonderful natural resources, including free flowing rivers, outstanding forestlands, and exceptional wildlife habitat, all of which support local economies and provide opportunities for hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. “As part of its new national habitat conservation strategy, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is pleased to work with The Conservation Fund and others to ensure that 70,000 acres of these natural assets are conserved now and for future generations.”

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America.  By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres of land. 

About the Richard King Mellon Foundation
Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. The Foundation’s 2020 year-end endowment was $3.1 billion, and its Trustees in 2020 disbursed $130 million in grants and Program Related Investments. The Foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas, delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.

Contact: 
Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 | asimonelli@conservationfund.org 
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