Governor announces relocation
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Gov. Scott Walker came to Rhinelander on Wednesday to formally announce the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry headquarters will be relocating to the city.
“We gave a plan, looked at different options, narrowed it down to a couple of finalists – different places from Hayward to Wausau to here in Rhinelander – and really decided for a variety of reasons this was the right place to have the Division of Forestry right here in Rhinelander…not as a branch office, but as the office for forestry in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said while receiving a round of applause with state, county and city officials as well as others on hand for the announcement outside the DNR ranger station.
The move from Madison to northern Wisconsin was authorized in the 2017-19 state budget Walker signed last month. The previous state budget had called for DNR to develop a proposal for that relocation. Rhinelander was among the municipalities to contact the DNR about having an interest in the Division of Forestry headquarters relocating to their communities. The Oneida County Board also passed a resolution last year in favor of moving the headquarters to the county.
Walker, who characterized the relocation as a way to “get state government out of Madison,” said the move will begin with the Division of Forestry administrator, Fred Souba Jr., permanently locating in Rhinelander by Dec. 1, followed by a “key part of the management team” also arriving by the beginning of next year and then the rest of the staff moving north over the next year.
“We’ve already got a good number of people here based in this part of the state that work in forestry,” Walker said. “We want the whole division to be here, and the focal point to be here, so that we can be better partners.”
The relocation plans call for using the DNR’s service center in Rhinelander as the Division of Forestry headquarters. Souba, who was on hand for Wednesday’s announcement, said no new construction is planned for the move.
“There may be some reworking of the current Rhinelander service center to accommodate the headquarters,” Souba said. “The transition period will be, as the governor mentioned, over the course of a year. The goal is to have about half of my leadership team here by the first of January.”
The exact number of DNR staff to relocate to Rhinelander, Souba said, isn’t known at this point.
“We’re going through this transition period evaluation as to what positions need to be located in the forestry headquarters,” he said. “We’re going to be doing that over the course of a year.”
Souba said Rhinelander was selected for the Division of Forestry headquarters after an analysis of where the best site could be in DNR facilities owned by the agency.
“It was an internal evaluation and it turned out to be Rhinelander,” he said.
Local officials present for the announcement praised the decision to move the headquarters to Rhinelander.
“To recognize Rhinelander as the hub of forestry in northern Wisconsin is absolutely superb, and I can only thank the governor,” said Oneida County supervisor Jack Sorensen, who chairs the county’s Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee.
“It’s going to be great for our partnership with the DNR and for the federal forest, and state, county industries,” said county forest director John Bilogan. “It’s going to be a perfect fit.”
“It’s not just for the city of Rhinelander, it’s for the total area, which is most important,” said Mayor Dick Johns. “Everybody here involved in it has probably worked, one way or the other, to see it happen. Our state representatives worked hard for us.”
State Rep. Rob Swearingen, who represents the city of Rhinelander and most of Oneida County, said the announcement is “fantastic news, not only for the city of Rhinelander, but for the Northwoods of Wisconsin.”
“Not only do we have foresters here, we’ve got timber harvesters here, we’ve got loggers here, and we’ve got the forest here,” Swearingen said. “This is a win-win for the city of Rhinelander and the Northwoods, and I’m ecstatic that Gov. Walker has made, once again, another commitment to the Northwoods in moving the forestry division up here.”