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Forestry committee members open to extending logging contracts

Mild winter weather has limited access to winter-ground logging stands in Taylor County Forest

Taylor County forestry is looking at writing off this winter in regard to any meaningful harvests on winter-only timber sales.

Acting forest administrator Alex Solawetz told forestry committee members at the Feb. 2 meeting that he had been approached by loggers asking about getting extensions to their timber sale contracts due to the lack of frozen ground this winter.

He said the logger had been told by previous staff in the office not to cut because conditions were poor and wanted assurance that he would be able to get an extension on the sale.

When timber sales are let out for bid, they are designated as either having winter harvest areas or summer harvest areas. The difference is based on the type of terrain and access to the stand. Winter harvest is done when the ground is frozen, which minimizes the compression and other negative impacts of moving heavy equipment into the area, this is used a lot in wetter areas of the forest. Summer harvest typically includes those on higher ground where it is drier and less chance of unwanted damage to the forest.

The unusually mild winter has disrupted many logging plans for the season. Loggers who are awarded a timber sale are given a set period of time in order to complete the sale. However, the contracts allow for an extension to be requested at the discretion of the forestry committee. While there is typically a fee charged, committee members Myron Brooks and Gary Beadles said they would support waiving that fee for any extension requests that come in due to the winter weather.

The committee will take formal action on any requests as they come into the county. It is anticipated that the mild winter could impact overall harvest totals and forest revenue for the coming year, however the extent of that impact won’t be known until later in the year.

Job description

After having a few weeks to review it, members of the forestry committee approved an updated job description for the forestry administrator position with some changes.

The primary change was in the job requirements area. Generally the county will ask for a degree or any combination of training and job experience for qualifications. However, chairman Scott Mildbrand noted the state grant that covers half the salary and benefits of the forest administrator requires them to have a specific degree. The previous administrator did not have this degree, but the county was able to still get the grant funds because the assistant administrator had the necessary degree.

“I think the administrator should have the degree,” Brooks said.

Mildbrand said he didn’t want to paint the county into a corner with having to commit to having two people in the office if the next administrator didn’t have the degree and the assistant did. He said he felt it would be fair to the candidates to advertise it as requiring the degree.

In other action related to the vacancy in the administrator position the committee went into closed session regarding giving additional compensation to the interim director. The county has traditionally given additional compensation to department staff who serve in the interim department head positions.

In this case, committee members approved increasing Solawetz’s wage by $5 per hour dated from January 15 until one pay period past when the new administrator begins work.

In other business, committee members:

 Decided to take no additional action on the carbon credit resolution that was tabled at the January county board session. Mildbrand said there were some concerns expressed about if the resolution was handled properly. He said he spoke wth the county’s attorney who said the committee could do something if they chose or instead it would simply come off the table for action at the March 19 county board meeting. Committee members selected to take no additional action.

 Referred to a closed session meeting next month, discussion on a letter to be sent to Pember Companies of Menomonie regarding final payment of the work that they did on the Chelsea Lake Dam. Earlier this fall, the committee had been informed that Ayres requested about $5,000 in additional payment due to having to do more on-site supervision of the construction project due to issues that occurred with the contractor. At the prior meeting, the directive was given that Pember should be paying Ayres, not the county. At last week’s meeting, the committee was scheduled to discuss and decide on sending out the letter prepared by the county’s attorney. However, Mildbrand questioned if reviewing the letter prepared by the attorney should be done in closed session or open. Mildbrand said he felt that in order to do things in a fair and ethical manner it would be better for the county err on the side of having it in closed session.