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Felzkowski talks with WXPR about Pelican River Forest conservation project concerns

Katie Thoresen

State Senator Mary Felzkowski spoke with WXPR about her concerns with the Pelican River Forest and why she held up funding for conservation easements on the property.

The Conservation Fund bought 70,000 acres in Oneida, Forest, and Langlade Counties in 2021 with the goal of securing conservation easements and then re-selling the land.

As WXPR reported earlier this week, the project is in limbo after an anonymous lawmaker objected to using the funds, and the Joint Finance Committee never scheduled a meeting for it- despite state statute requiring it to do so.

Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk)
Wisconsin State Legislator
Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk)

We now know one of the lawmakers who opposed it was Senator Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk).

WXPR’s Katie Thoresen spoke with the Senator about her decision and the Joint Finance Committee process.

You can listen to the full interview above.

Felzkowski told WXPR she’s not opposed to conservation projects but does have concerns about putting easements on such a large parcel of land, especially one in northern Wisconsin.

“There is an abundance of publicly owned land in northern Wisconsin for people to recreate on. That doesn’t even include all the land that’s in MFL for people to recreate on. When we continuously take land off the property tax roll, we lower the revenue that comes into those local units of government,” said Felzkowski.

MFL stands for Managed Forest Law. It’s a landowner incentive program that gives landowners reduced property taxes in exchange for opening their land to forest management and public recreation.

The Pelican River Forest land is currently enrolled in MFL and was before the Conservation Fund bought it.

Felzkowski argues it would be detrimental to the local communities to make this land unavailable for development in perpetuity, which is what would happen if these conservation easements are secured.

While many conservation groups in the state want to see this project go through, they're also concerned about how similar projects are being handled in the Joint Finance Committee.

There have been several instances when the Joint Finance Committee has not scheduled meetings for projects that are trying to use Knowles Nelson Stewardship Funds, despite state statute directing them to do so.

Felzkowski says she’s open to discussions about conserving the project.

“Honestly, I haven’t had that conversation with the co-chairs. I don’t know the answer to that, potentially yes. I don’t know,” said Felzkowski when asked if she knew why there wasn’t a meeting scheduled for the Pelican River Forest funding and if there would be one.

Governor Evers went around JFC on five previous projects and funded them with ARPA money.

It's unclear where it will go from here if JFC doesn't schedule a hearing.

You can view WXPR’s initial reporting on this issue here.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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