|Privilege to access open lands at stake|
Letter to the Editor:
How many of us hunt on open Managed Forest Lands (MFL) in Wisconsin? Fish, hike, sightsee or cross-country ski on these lands? Our state has approximately 1.1 million acres of open managed forest lands — open to us all.
Yet soon our State Senate may be asked to vote on a bill that will deny us the privilege of accessing these open lands if the lands are within a proposed iron-mining site. Senate Bill 278, co-authored by Sen. Tom Tiffany, makes a farce of a well-respected program that was created in 1985 to promote sound forestry practices and open more land to the public for recreation.According to our current law, landowners with at least 10 contiguous acres, of which 80% or more is forested, can apply to have their property in the MFL program. The advantage is that they pay a substantially lower tax rate on their land per acre.
Landowners in the program choose to have their land closed or open to the public. Landowners cannot close more than 160 acres per municipality. Landowners who close their lands pay a higher tax rate than landowners who open their lands. Open lands require the landowner to permit public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, sightseeing and cross-country skiing.
Landowners commit to a 25- or 50-year sustainable forest management plan. Landowners can voluntarily withdraw from the program. At the time of withdrawal, the landowners are assessed a withdrawal tax. The tax amount reflects the regular tax payments the landowners would have made if the land was not in the MFL program.
Sen. Tiffany authored SB 278 to promote the interests of one out-of-state mining company, Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), over the interests of the public. According to its preapplication notice to the Department of Natural Resources, GTAC’s proposed mining site boundary along the Penokee Range encompasses 6,744 acres. These lands are owned by RGGS Land & Minerals, LaPointe Iron Company and Chester Co. Ltd. These lands are in the MFL program and are designated open.
Under the ruse of drafting legislation that will protect workers on the mine site from protestors, SB 278 allows GTAC to close to the public these legally mandated open lands.
Our government seems insistent on taking away privileges we share as citizens of Wisconsin by drafting new laws that benefit special interests. If GTAC is sincere about protecting its workers at the potential mine site, the solution is simple — voluntarily withdraw the lands from the MFL program. Then these private lands will be closed automatically to the public.
Of course the company landowners would be responsible for deferred taxes on the land withdrawn from the program. News sources indicate the town of Anderson in Iron County could receive as much as $400,000, for example, in tax monies. In addition, the landowners would begin paying regular property taxes.
Rather than follow Wisconsin law, GTAC once again has lobbied our legislators to change our laws to its favor and our detriment. We lose. GTAC gets what it wants — open MFL lands closed to the public while the landowner companies continue to reap the benefits of the lower tax rates.
If you hunt, fish, hike, sightsee or cross-country ski on open managed forest lands, become informed. Contact our legislators. Let them know your position on SB 278. Do it soon. Your privilege to access open managed forest lands is at stake.
The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.
William M. Thackeray
|Tuesday, September 10, 2013 12:02 PM|