WGF Celebrates the Conservation of the Pelican River Forest

WI Green Fire, January 30, 2024

aerial view of trees in the Pelican River Forest with blue hills in the background

Pelican River Forest WI, photo copyright Jay Brittain, courtesy of Gathering Waters

After years of conservation efforts, over 67,000 acres of the Pelican River Forest in Oneida, Forest and Langlade counties are now protected forever under conservation easements. Leaders and volunteers from Wisconsin’s Green Fire (WGF) collaborated with partners and officials at local and state levels to conserve this forest in one of Wisconsin’s largest-ever conservation projects.

“The preservation of the Pelican River Forest is the result of individual citizens, grassroots organizations, conservation groups, Governor Evers and his staff, government agencies and foundations all working towards a common goal,” stated WGF Executive Director Meleesa Johnson.

“Vince Lombardi once said that the Packers didn’t win for individual glory—rather, they cared enough about one another to build a winning team. In the case of the Pelican River Forest, the many people who worked on this project cared about the greater good of protecting wildlife and habitats, as well as conserving the majesty of this land. I am so proud that Wisconsin’s Green Fire and its members have been a part of this team.”

Funding the conservation of the Pelican River Forest has been complicated. The Pelican River Forest is the state’s largest privately-owned forest, purchased by The Conservation Fund (TCF) in 2021 with the goal of conserving the forest. In March 2022, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) paid TCF $4.7 million from the Stewardship fund for a conservation easement on a 12,496-acre portion of the forest.

On January 24, 2024, Governor Evers announced he approved a conservation easement on 54,898 acres in the Pelican River Forest. Around 1,300 acres were removed from an earlier proposed easement in response to local officials seeking development opportunities on that land. The $15.5 million cost of this easement was paid with a $10.9 million grant from the federal Forest Legacy Program, $600,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and $4 million in private funds received by TCF. No state funds were contributed to these easement costs. The easements prevent the forest from being subdivided and fragmented.

Conserving the Pelican River Forest brings many benefits both economically and environmentally. According to the WDNR, Gathering Waters, and TCF, some of these benefits include:

  • An estimated annual value of $1.1M in timber harvests, supporting hundreds of jobs in the forest products sector in Oneida and adjacent counties.
  • Expanded opportunities for tourism with public access for recreational uses like hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, and wildlife viewing. The conservation easements also allow permanent access to about 70 miles of roads.
  • Conserving forest habitats and populations of diverse plants and wildlife like black bears, wolves, spruce grouse, red crossbills, and more.
  • Protects water quality in 68 miles of streams, including headwaters to the Wolf and Wisconsin Rivers, supporting safer drinking water for over 40,000 people.

Going forward, the total land under conservation easement in the Pelican River Forest is 67,394 acres, roughly half the size of Lake Winnebago. The WDNR will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing terms of the two easements.

We at Wisconsin’s Green Fire commend all the partner organizations, agencies, and officials who worked together to conserve the Pelican River Forest. You can join us in thanking Gov. Evers for securing these funds for conservation. We encourage any member of the public to go out and enjoy the conservation values of the Pelican River Forest!

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