Wisconsin forestland ownership, 2003-2013

fall snow on landscape; Jeff MartinForests cover roughly 16 million acres (> 25,000 square miles) in Wisconsin: larger than the entire state of West Virginia. Who owns all that forestland? It is a mix of private and public owners ranging from the USDA Forest Service managing over 1 million acres to families and individuals owning 30 or 40 acres.

The USDA Forest Service, through its Forest Inventory and Analysis program, has collected data about forests in Wisconsin and USA for decades. Here are some basic descriptive statistics about Wisconsin forest ownership. The table below shows the distribution of forestland by ownership for 2013.


Category Acres Percent
National Forests 1,432,000 8.9%
National Park Service 43,000 0.3%
US Fish & Wildlife Service 88,000 0.5%
US Department of Defense or Energy 42,000 0.3%
Other federal 12,000 0.1%
State 1,162,000 7.2%
Local (mostly County) 2,332,000 14.4%
Other non federal lands 7,000 ~0%
All private 11,051,000 68.3%
TOTAL 16,169,000 100.0%

Some notes about the above ownerships…

  • “State” land is primarily our State Forests, but also includes Parks and other state ownerships with forestland.
  • Local forestland is nearly entirely the 29 County Forests found across the state.
  • Other non federal lands is anything public that doesn’t fit the other categories.
  • “All private” includes those owned by families and individuals and by large corporations, such as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Timber Investment and Management Organizations (TIMOs). Historically, there were two categories of private lands: industrial and non-industrial, but privacy issues limit how data may be shared. The vast majority is owned by families and individuals (“woodland owners” or “family forest owners”), with less than 1 million acres held in large ownerships. Tribal lands are also included in this category.
  • Paper and timber companies own very little forestland anymore, having sold it to REITs, TIMOs, and others.
  • Roughly 3.2 million acres of the “all private” forestland is enrolled in the Managed Forest Law program (MFL), a property tax incentive program.

wiforestownership20032013In terms of ownership change (see graph to right), the amount of forestland in Wisconsin increased by 7.2% from 2003 to 2013. Notably, the amount in private ownership accounted for nearly 80% of that increase, rising from 10,176,000 to 11,051,000 acres during that same time.

The graph includes data for all the categories in the above table, but the five smallest (all public ownership of some type) were combined to improve it visually. (Can’t say I’m happy with image quality, so will need to look into that for future posts).



To view the raw data and an interactive chart of the 2003-2013 graph, please follow this link to a google spreadsheet. Click on the “2003-2013” tab.

About the data…

CITATION: Forest Inventory Data Online web-application version: FIDO St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. [Available only on internet: http://apps.fs.fed.us/fia/fido/customrpt/app.html] Access date: Tuesday February 17, 2015 11:56 a.m.

The above data include both reserved and non-reserved forestland. The USDA Forest Service defines reserved forestland as “Forest land that is incapable of producing 20 cubic feet per acre per year of industrial wood under natural conditions, because of adverse site conditions, and is protected through statute or administrative designation.” (link, about two-thirds of the way down the page)

About the photo…

The image comes from the Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology extension forester’s archive. It was taken by Jeff Martin, date unknown.


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