Forest Stewards Guild study of harvest constraints in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s 16 million acres of forestland are crucial to the well-being and wealth of all Wisconsin citizens. In 2012, the Wisconsin forestry and forest products industry directly added $23 billion to the state’s economy. Other forest benefits such as recreation, hunting, fishing, and clean water also have a large (if more difficult to measure) economic impact. Because forests and forestry provide benefits to many different stakeholders, any effort to enhance one benefit may limit other benefits. Balancing those benefits over the long term is an ongoing challenge for policy-makers and leaders in the forestry community. The Wisconsin Forest Practices Study (WFPS) is a response to this challenge.

A part of the WFPS, the Forest Stewards Guild was selected as a research contractor to conduct a multi-year study designed to analyze economic and ecological effects of forest practices and harvesting restrictions on Wisconsin's forest resources and economy. The Guild and their partners Applied Ecological Services and the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Minnesota Duluth carefully reviewed the existing scientific literature, mapped affected areas, analyzed harvest cases studies, conducted surveys of foresters and timber professionals, modeled economic effects, and assessed ecological impacts. We thank our many members, partners, and colleagues who allowed us draw on their knowledge, experience, and data to provide an informative science-based assessment of the costs and benefits of forestry best practices and how they are applied in practice.

This study evaluated the collective impact of forest management constraints that are designed to protect forest productivity, safeguard populations of rare animals, reduce the impact of forest pests, or control invasive species. We use the term “forest management constraints” to describe a broad set of regulatory and non-regulatory factors that significantly affect timber harvesting and other forestry operations.

While the implementation of forest management constraints causes immediate economic impact, the forest resources these constraints are designed to protect also have significant present and future value. The economic benefits of removing or adjusting constraints should be weighed against the benefits of protecting forests through forest management constraints. Those benefits are less tangible and less-easily measured, but they are no less important and are widely valued by society and by taxpayers who support forestry programs.

Additional scientific research may be able to identify areas where it is possible to reduce forest management constraints while still achieving the needed protections. Because of the broad public and professional support for science-based practices to protect forest health and productivity, simple policy changes are unlikely to be an effective avenue to adjust constraints.

For a more detailed discussion of the study’s results, please see the full report.