Private Woodland Owners Stand to Lose Big if Forestry Mill Tax is Eliminated in Wisconsin Budget – Make your views known to your Wisconsin Senators and Representatives Today

Governor Walker’s budget bill includes shifting funding for the DNR Forestry Program from the Forestry Mill Tax to general purpose revenues (GPR) for the 2017-2019 biennium.  This shift will jeopardize the stable funding source, which has supported the DNR Forestry Program and may place DNR Forestry and its 100 years of forestry accomplishments at risk.

The Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association strongly opposes the elimination of the Forestry Mill Tax.  We encourage private woodland owners and those interested in sustainable forestry to make your views known to your Wisconsin legislators.  To find or contact your legislator, then in the upper right hand corner input your address and select Find My Legislator.

The DNR Forestry Program has been an important partner with the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association (WWOA) since WWOA’s founding in 1979.  Most WWOA members and many other private landowners have benefitted from services provided by their DNR Forester at one point in time or another.

If the DNR Forestry Program has to compete for GPR funding with other programs in state government, ask yourself could the possible reduction or elimination of the DNR Forestry Program impact you as a private woodland owner?

  • Who will you call to provide information on technical forestry concerns like insect and disease issues, tree planting advice, questions about the Managed Forest Law Program or assistance to apply for a Wisconsin Forest Landowner Grant?
  • Where will you look to acquire information on invasive species prevention or control?
  • Who would you call in your local area for advice on timber theft?
  • Who would you call for technical expertise to assist with your local chapter events of WWOA?
  • Are we really ready to retire Smokey Bear, the local foresters, and the last state nursery?
  • Who can you call to get advice on how to hire a qualified consulting forester or logger?
  • Would you be satisfied with local volunteer fire departments stretching their limited resources to protect your woodlands during extreme fire weather?

In a 1924 referendum, the citizens of Wisconsin approved an amendment to the state constitution which permitted creating a statewide tax on real property with the proceeds to be used for forestry purposes.  This was not accomplished by typical legislation.  It was accomplished by a referendum, a vote of the people.

Because the amount of the tax, not to exceed two-tenths of a mill for each dollar of assessed property valuation, the tax has been come to be known as the Forestry Mill Tax.  In this context, a ‘mill’ has nothing to do with sawing wood or making paper; it is a monetary unit equal to one-thousandth of a dollar.  At two-tenths of a mill per dollar, the tax comes to 20 cents on $1,000.00 of assessed value.  The owner of a $150,000.00 home thus pays $30.00 in forestry mill tax.  Take a look at your last property tax bill.  The amount listed on that bill as “State of Wisconsin” is your share of the forestry mill tax.

The Forestry Mill Tax is the only tax stipulated in the Wisconsin Constitution and is equally levied on all property tax payers. It was developed to guarantee stable, long-term protection and management of the state’s forest resources. All citizens of Wisconsin benefit from the wise use of our forest resources. This includes clean air, clean water, recreational opportunities, aesthetics, ecological benefits, economic benefits (a sustainable supply of raw materials for forest industry) and an overall improvement in quality of life.

Wisconsin Constitution – Article VIII, Section 10, (3). “The state may appropriate moneys for the purpose of acquiring, preserving and developing the forests of the state. Of the moneys appropriated under the authority of this subsection in any one year an amount not to exceed two-tenths of one mill of the taxable property of the state as determined by the last preceding 3 state assessment may be raised by a tax on property”. (1924 amendment to the Constitution.)

The following is a list of services (currently) provided by DNR foresters as written in the Administrative Code.  All could be at risk if funding is reduced:

  • A first time request from a landowner for management guidance including an assessment of the landowner’s objectives, a walk-through or cruise of the property, educational and advisory information, written management recommendations or referral to other resource professionals.
  • Timber sale guidance including forest reconnaissance, a written harvest prescription or a referral to other resource professionals.
  • Administration and oversight of the forest tax laws including review of petitions for eligibility, review and approval of cutting notices, and follow up on mandatory practices.
  • Administration of the federal cost-sharing programs related to forest management practices and the Wisconsin Forest Landowner Grant Program.
  • One-to-one educational opportunities with private landowners, landowner or educator conferences, workshops and field demonstrations; assistance to school and community forests; and news articles.
  • Evaluation of insect and/or disease infestation and recommendations/alternatives for treatment.
  • Coordination of state tree nursery orders and shipments.
  • Educational presentations to school groups, civic groups, or at parades or fairs.

If the Forestry Mill Tax is replaced by GPR, the door will be open to biennial budget reductions for forestry and conservation efforts that will certainly subject one of the best programs in the nation to the same program erosion that other states’ forestry programs have seen.

Forestry, by its long-term nature, will find it difficult to compete with the immediate needs of other programs.  The failure to sustainably manage and protect the forests of the state and the associated resources was experienced in Wisconsin’s early history during the cutover period.  The resulting conditions led to the development of the Mill Tax.  Revisiting these conditions, along with the time, expense, and effort to restore our forests would surely not be in the interest of the citizens or the forest industry of Wisconsin.

While the governor says there will be a continuation of DNR Forestry funding for this biennium, there is no guarantee, implied or stated, that future budgets will provide for Forestry funding.  Forestry funding is likely to dwindle in the future.  This proposal can have a negative impact on Wisconsin forest lands similar to moving the appointment of the DNR Secretary from the Natural Resources Board to a Governor’s appointment.

The Forestry Mill Tax’s stability provided the basis to create a dedicated, science-based program of forest management and protection, which continues to restore Wisconsin’s forest lands from a decimated condition to the productive and pristine forests of today.

It is very important that you contact your state legislators to express your thoughts on the Forestry Mill Tax.