The public wants to think that government agencies try to save taxpayer money as much as possible, but hearing that a department is completely self-funded may be a shock.

One Jackson County department has done just that through a mix of tourism and commerce.

The Jackson County Forestry and Parks Department manages about 120,000 acres of forestry land, with the timber providing significant income. Jackson County has the eighth most forest land in Wisconsin, according to data from the Wisconsin County Forest Association.

The department also manages recreational spots, including ATV/snowmobile trails and park grounds. That’s not the end of the department’s responsibilities as it takes care of wildlife habitats, battles invasive species and works with groups to manage the area.

“Last year in 2016 the forestry department gave the county $655,000 in excess revenue,” Forestry and Parks Department assistant administrator Jon Schweitzer said.

That excess revenue is the money left over after the department takes care of its salaries, building, maintenance expenses and more.

The department manages its forests carefully, depending on the type of tree that’s being harvested − sometimes clear cutting and sometimes selectively harvesting the trees.

When it comes time for selling the trees, the work is bid out to private loggers after a team of foresters with the department sets up the sales boundaries and inventories the work.

This process is done year-round with different cycles for different trees.

“It depends on the conditions that the foresters feel is best for protecting the environment and generating revenue, there’s quite a bit of work that goes into it,” Schweitzer said.

All that work goes into making the forestry department self-sustainable, but the process for the parks department is a little different. Most of its revenue is generated from park revenue, ATV trails and gravel royalties from Lake Wazee.

The department also has a fund balance that is maintained in the few instances where the department has to draw from it. Additional funds are added to the fund balance nearly every year.

“A couple of times we’ve used the fund balance when the lake is drained since that negatively impacts our revenue,” Schweitzer said.

That means in those times when the department is drawing on the fund balance, they are not having to ask for additional tax levy from the county.

The parks department ecosystem creates a fairly self-sustainable model as well, with the fees and park usage all coming back to the department to fund the programs.

“It’s good management of these assets that allows these departments to be self-funding,” said Chris Hardie, executive director of the Black River Area Chamber of Commerce.

Hardie also said the benefit of the parks is that it brings outside people and outside money into the area, which doesn’t show up in the department’s budget.

East Arbutus and Lake Arbutus are some of the most popular parks in the area with its modern amenities.

It’s not all about the tourism and timber sales though, the department does receive some help from the state for their work in wildlife and habitat work.

“One of the things we’re doing is that we’ve realized we are lacking in productive forest openings in the county forest,” Schweitzer said.

Currently, that type of land is less than one percent of county forest land, so the department has been working closely with the Department of Natural Resources, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Foundation to find land that might be developed and maintained throughout the forest for wildlife.

One of the bigger concerns that the department has been combating is invasive species that have been moving in like the glossy buckthorn, which can affect the regeneration of other forest life.

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Stephen Knoll is a reporter for Jackson County Chronicle. Contact him at 715-284-0085.

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