The Vilas County Forestry, Recreation and Land Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 7, discussed initial drafting of a new, 15-year comprehensive plan. 

More precisely, the discussion centered around land designation categories within county forest land. 

County forestry director Al Murray said “next month’s homework” is starting a redraft of the new plan. 

“Just in review, the forestry ordinance and the recreation ordinance identify the parks as a point,” he said, referring to sites such as the Torch Lake Campground and Tamarack Springs campgrounds in Conover. “It’s kind of hard to manage just as a point.”

Murray said what he’s put together on the draft plan so far was area. 

“So, that when we’re doing a timber sale or whatever, we can manage that as a park area rather than a timber production area,” he said. “And that’s what the maps I put together reflect.”

Committee member Art Kunde, who represents the Conover area on the county board, said the comprehensive plan in place now reflects growing and harvesting timber for the “financial benefit of the county.”

“I’m well aware of that,” he said. “One of the things that’s been lost over the years has been managing the forests to improve habitat for white-tailed deer. With the hunting season we’ve had for the last couple years here, when I’ve brought this up in the past, I’ve always gotten the response that ‘With Conover being all sand, jack pine grows really great here.’ A 20 year crop. I totally get that.”

Kunde said, however, with the harvesting of hardwoods such as jack pine from the area diminishes “the quality of the deer herds.”

He said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will take up its position standards for deer — at 23 per square mile — are met. 

At that point, DNR liaison to the committee Jill Nemec, sitting across from Kunde, sort of chuckled.

“Meh, that’s (DNR) wildlife,” she said.

Nemec’s tongue-in-cheek response drew laughter from others on the committee, including Kunde, who continued, saying he’s on the Vilas County Deer Advisory Council, it’s purpose for deer management. 

“I’ve seen this go down,” he said. “When the deer numbers go down, we lose the people coming up here. We’re tourism based. This effects everything. Not just recreational trails; it’s how the land is used and I would like to see something in this plan that reflects it.”

Murray said the template he was using for the new comprehensive plan was a new one from the DNR which he said includes “pretty extensive wildlife parts” in the plan’s later chapters. 

“These are just the first two chapters,” he said, referencing what he had in front of him and what had been provided to the committee so far. 

“Not to discredit the DNR, but I don’t believe a word they say,” Kunde said.

Once again, his comment drew laughter from some of the committee and others in the room. 

“Woah, Art, c’mon,” Nemec said, again in a tongue in cheek manner. “Where’s the love?”

Kunde said it was nothing personal and Murray said he would take Kunde’s comments regarding concerns about reduced deer numbers “under advisement” as he moves forward.

Kunde wasn’t finished.  

“I mean, you go back and just on the surface, people come to the Northwoods to see north woods,” he said. “The big trees. Where are they? We’ve got scrawny little jack pines growing all over the place. It’s not what it use to be and I don’t think we’ll ever be back to that, but we gotta try.”

A long hard look

Committee member Jay Verhulst, also chairman of the county board’s land and water committee, noted how “guidance documents and templates” from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state of Wisconsin hadn’t been received by his committee or by the forestry committee.

“The process by which these were created excluded local units of government, it excluded user groups, it excluded anyone except the Department of Natural Resources and the USDA.”

He said he didn’t find that irregular, but told Kunde it went back to what he said a couple minutes earlier. 

“We need to take a long hard look at this,” Verhulst said.

He alluded to Dane County’s recent action pledging to work to support anti-climate change efforts and a possible executive order from the governor relating to requirements for things such as electric snowplows and electric chainsaws he said everyone could be forced into whatever measure is generated “whether we vote for it or not.”

“You need to be aware of the fact that what is coming down the pike in this 15-year forestry plan is exactly what, and I tend to not like to use the word ‘deep state,’ in the USDA and their associates within the Department of Natural Resources are able to bring forward and force us into a position of having less and less ability and/or authority to deal with our forests.”


From the DNR

Nemec said she had some information related to what Kunde’s concerns were and this time, it was her who drew some laughter as she began her comments.

“I don’t know that you want to hear it,” she said. “It’s from the DNR.”

Nemec said what she had to share not only touched on the item being discussed — the forestry department’s 15-year comprehensive plan — but also another discussion item on the meeting agenda which had to do with “why I even come to these meetings.”

“That 15-year plan, Art, you’re right,” she said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for how you guys want the forest to look.”

While acknowledging state statutes can be “nebulous sometimes and don’t have a lot of detail,” Nemec said they do stipulate individual counties will put together comprehensive 15-year forestry plans. 

“With assistance from the DNR,” she said. “The reason that template was made up was to help counties wrap their heads around this huge development process.”

Nemec said from the time the county developed its current 15-year plan to the present, there is more of a focus on non-timber issues Kunde expressed concern about. 

“Timber’s always going to be the primary purpose of your county forest management,” Nemec said. “By statute, that’s what it says. But there’s also really good focus now on other things, like recreation. Like wildlife. Water quality. All those things are lumped in.”

Addressing Verhulst’s remarks about being forced into things such as a 15-year plan, Nemec again referenced state law, saying if the county didn’t develop a 15-year comprehensive forestry plan, it runs the risk of losing state funding. 

“There’s a lot tied to it, I know it’s a lot ‘big brother,’ but there are some legitimate reasons behind that, too,” she said. 

There was more discussion about the comprehensive plan and it was eventually tabled until there could be more discussion about the type of reforestation to be implemented. 

Why is she there?

As Nemec alluded to earlier, there was an agenda item for discussion regarding the need for her to be at the forestry, recreation and land committee meetings, something Murray said there “was a concern from one of the committee members” about that need.

He didn’t identify the committee member.  

“Just for clarification ... by statute, it’s required she attend,” Murray said. 

“In a nutshell, my position is a very unique position in the state,” Nemec, a DNR forester, said and she added she is one of 30 foresters in the state.

She said Vilas County plays a big role in managing forest lands. 

“The department actually co-manages them with you,” Nemec said. “In order to have a representative of the department help you with managing the lands, that’s really what these positions are.”

Committee chairman Steve Doyen said communication is something the committee talks about frequently and he felt it was “real important” for Nemec to be there. 

“She’s our local link to the state forest,” he said.

Verhulst said he was “distressed” when it appeared Nemec “was going to leave us.”

“I’ve always found her to be a straight shooter as far as giving us information or telling us flat out ‘I don’t have that information,’” he said. “I very much appreciate the way you’ve conducted yourself in that liaison position.”

“It’s a requirement for me to be here,” Nemec said. “But even if it wasn’t a requirement, I still think it’s important.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at