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So many of us live in Wisconsin’s Northwoods or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula because we love what surrounds us every day. We love the clear water, the clean air, and the lush forests. WXPR’s environmental reporting as part of our expanded series, The Stream, focuses on the natural world around us. The Stream is now about more than just water: it brings you stories of efforts to conserve our wild lands and lakes, scientific studies of animal and plant life, and potential threats to our environment. Hear The Stream on Thursdays on WXPR and access episodes any time online.

Over Formal Objections, National Forest Approves Logging Project Near Eagle River

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A major logging project in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Eagle River will go forward despite strong objections from an environmental law group.

The Fourmile project will include cuts from almost 12,000 acres of National Forest property, yielding timber valued at $4 million.

But opponents of the project still have the same major concerns they voiced this summer, as we reported on an episode of The Stream.

Don Waller, who chairs a science panel for the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), said in July that parts of the logging project will happen in places still recovering from the cutover a century ago.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Don Waller, a former botany professor at UW-Madison and the chair of the Scientific Advisory Council for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“They’re cutting the forest off at the knees, in a sense, in terms of its total potential lifespan,” Waller said.

The ELPC filed a formal objection to the harvest plan, arguing it would damage forest health and reduce habitat for the American marten, the only mammal on the state endangered species list.

But within the last few weeks, after hundreds of pages of review, the National Forest decided set aside those objections and allow the project to commence with some amendments.

“We did some updates to the biological evaluation, specifically related to marten and wood turtle, and really, those revolved around providing clarification in our analysis,” said Chad Kirschbaum, the National Forest’s Eagle River-Florence District Ranger.

Credit Trees for Tomorrow
Chad Kirschbaum, left, the District Ranger for the Eagle River-Florence District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Kirschbaum is pictured receiving the 2020 Mully Taylor Award from Eagle River-based Trees for Tomorrow.

The National Forest also pointed out the plan would thin some stands of trees that are overstocked, contribute to demand for forest products, and reduce wildfire risk.

“After considering the environmental effects described in this environmental assessment and project record, I have determined that these actions will not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment,” Kirschbaum wrote in his Nov. 13 decision document.

Through the “no significant effect” finding, Kirschbaum and National Forest administrators ultimately decided a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement wasn’t needed for the project.

That worries Justin Vickers, an ELPC staff attorney who has seen a trend toward quicker logging approvals without full Environmental Impact Statements.

“I would say in the last ten years, there’s really been a change in policy in the Forest that has moved away from doing EIS’s for these larger projects,” Vickers said.

“While I wasn’t surprised, in the sense that it sort of was in line with their change in policy that appears to have happened since about 2011, I was certainly disappointed in the outcome here.”

Credit Tim Auer
The American marten.

Vickers said the plan tweaks implemented by the National Forest don’t go far enough, and the ELPC is now considering action in federal court.

“We’re not against all logging or anything like that. When we looked at this, and we talked to the scientists who are really on the ground and deeply engaged in this forest, they have serious concerns about what this means for the health of the forest in terms of both the trees and the wildlife,” Vickers said.

Kirschbaum said timber sales will likely be advertised in 2022.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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