By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Department of Natural Resources’ board is set to decide whether to sell nearly 6,000 more acres of land to help satisfy a state budget mandate.
Republicans added provisions to the 2013-15 budget that require the DNR to sell 10,000 acres by mid-2017 to help pay down ballooning debt in the stewardship program, the mechanism the agency uses to borrow money for land purchases. The land must lie outside the boundaries of existing projects such as state parks or state forests.
GOP lawmakers have criticized the program for years; they say it takes too much land off the tax rolls, generates too much debt and forces the state to pay too much to local governments to offset lost property taxes when land enters the program. The agency owns about 1.5 million acres and has easements on another 303,561 acres, according to a memo DNR officials sent to the Natural Resources Board earlier this month.
The board in June 2014 approved 1,407 acres for sale. The DNR has now recommended the board put another 5,900 acres on the sales block, including 23 parcels totaling 2,405 acres that would be sold to municipalities and tribes. Most of the land would have to be kept open to the public for outdoor activities as a condition of sale.
The agency also has recommended selling 35 parcels totaling 2,486 acres with no legal access to a road to adjoining property owners; and 24 parcels totaling 1,009 acres to the general public via competitive bids. The parcels are spread across more than two dozen counties. A complete list of the parcels is available on the DNR’s website.
The board is expected to vote on selling the parcels during a meeting on Wednesday in Madison. Approval would bring the total number of acres approved for sale to 7,307. Board members also are expected to consider granting the DNR permission to begin studying the possibility of selling another 32 parcels totaling 2,195 acres.
The agency doesn’t expect to take the first parcels to market until after the board approves selling all 10,000 acres.