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Partners in Forestry works to secure conservation easements on more than 1,200 acres in Vilas County

Joe Hovel
Partners in Forestry
County Road E separates the Upper Wisconsin River Legacy Forest from the Bird Habitat addition of 191 acres.

Two sections of land will be put into conservation easements in the Land O'Lakes area of Vilas County.

One is 191-acres near the intersection of Hwy 45 and County Road E. It adds wildlife habitat to the Upper Wisconsin River Legacy Forest and connects the forest to County Forest lands.

The other section is the Border Lakes tracts along County Roads B and County Road S near Forest Lake in Land O’Lakes.

Joe Hovel owns the Upper Wisconsin River Legacy Forest addition and is the Director of Partners in Forestry, an organization that works to support sustainable forest management.

“These two projects, really, I mean, they're a tremendous asset to the community, and certainly will be used and embraced by future generations. I don't think there's any question about that,” said Hovel.

The Border Lakes Tracts are owned by the Mike Uihlein family. Hovel says Mike’s a friend of his and longtime Partners in Forestry member.

“When we first started our co-op 25 or so years ago, he was right there with us. When he asked for help in protecting his land, and with the public values and so forth, I mean, how could I not embrace that? It was such a warm feeling,” said Hovel.

The land will all remain in private ownership.

The conservation easements will mean no future owners can develop on them, leaving the land for public recreation, timber production, and wildlife habitat.

Hovel says these sections of land hold a lot of environmental and public use value.

They’re home to diverse wildlife habitats. They’ll protect scenic corridors along several county roads. They’re each part of critical watersheds: the Wisconsin River and Ontonagon River-Lake Superior.

Joe Hovel
Partners in Forestry
The Forest Lake segment of the Wilderness Trails System.

The Border Lakes tracts include the Forest Lake segment of the Wilderness Lakes Trail System.

“The public opportunities here are numerous. They're diverse, and we truly felt the responsibility to see those protected for future generations,” said Hovel.

The conservation easements are being purchased with federal funds and private donations and will be held by the Wisconsin DNR through the Forest Legacy Program.

Hovel says conservation easements make forestry work sustainable.

“A landowner can follow the very best management practices he can. He can manage his timber stands to the very highest ethics. And if he passes away, and somebody else buys that land, it's up to them to destroy it or maintain it as they wish,” said Hovel. “This Forest Legacy designation is going to honor the landowners wishes going forward. In other words, you can practice sustainable forestry, and the next guy has to do the same.”

The projects had support from local trail, forestry, and conservation groups as well as local governments.

The Vilas County Board voted in support of the easements at its June board meeting with 19 in favor, one recused.

“I was very grateful. Knowing the qualities of these projects and the amount of effort that I put in to conveying these benefits to the board members, I couldn't have been surprised because I knew they were good projects,” said Hovel.

Hovel hopes the conservation easements will be finalized by the end of the year.

The land is currently open to the public through the Managed Forest Law program.

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