Fort McCoy News Sept. 23, 2016

Public Lands Day: Forestry marks 50-plus years

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

For more than 50 years, the installation Forestry Office with the Natural Resources Branch (NRB) of the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division has successfully maintained and managed Fort McCoy's forested lands.

Fort McCoy is situated on more than 60,000 acres of public land, which includes more than 40,000 acres of forested land. The Forestry Office works directly with other Fort McCoy, state, and federal agencies to support training needs, help provide and improve wildlife habitat, and continuously help maintain a diverse and healthy forest ecosystem, said Fort McCoy Forester James Kerkman.

Forestry history

Fort McCoy hired Julian Hutchinson as the first forestry-specific employee of the garrison staff in October 1966. Hutchinson first worked as a forestry technician, then became the installation's forester and, eventually, the supervising forester.

Fort McCoy Forester James Kerkman with the Forestry Office of the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch completes some forestry work on the post's cantonment area Sept. 8.
Fort McCoy Forester James Kerkman with the Forestry Office of the
Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources
Branch completes forestry work on the post's cantonment area Sept. 8.

Kerkman said Hutchinson hired him in 1985 and Forestry Technician Charles Mentzel in 1987 — both of who make up the Forestry Office today.

"I worked as a forestry technician until 1989 when I became the post forester," Kerkman said. "Julian established Fort McCoy's forestry program even before he started working here full time. His contributions are the basis for everything we do in forestry today."

The first record of the Army taking action to manage the forest on Fort McCoy was recorded in 1948 in a forest-fire control agreement with the Wisconsin Conservation Department — now the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said NRB Chief Mark McCarty.

In the early 1950s, the U.S. Forest Service conducted a timber survey and prepared a timber-management plan for Fort McCoy. Commercial harvests started on Fort McCoy in 1954.

"In the late '50s and early '60s, Julian was providing support for Fort McCoy forestry efforts as a forester with the Wisconsin Conservation Department in Sparta," Kerkman said.

Always busy

Forestry management is a year-round process at the installation, Kerkman said. The Forestry Office initiates and manages timber sales, completes prescribed burns to reduce fire dangers, and maintains a forestry inventory.

Forestry Technician Charles Mentzel (right) with the Forestry Office and Wildlife Technician Zac Millbrand, both with the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch, measure log lengths at a timber-sale site on Fort McCoy’s North Post Aug. 26.
Forestry Technician Charles Mentzel (right) with the Forestry Office
and Wildlife Technician Zac Millbrand, both with the Directorate of
Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch, measure
log lengths at a timber-sale site on Fort McCoy's North Post Aug. 26.

"All of our forest acreage is tracked using computer programs to enhance multiple-use, sustained-yield forest management," Kerkman said. "From 4,000 to 5,000 acres are re-inventoried each year."

Inventorying and managing acreage means working in the field, which is where Mentzel spends much of his time. "I'll go out when its 20 degrees below zero in the middle of winter or when it's over 100 degrees in the heart of summer," Mentzel said.

Unlike 50 years ago, Kerkman said state-of-the-art technology helps them, as well.

"We have tools like the Global Information System for mapmaking and GPS, which make things a lot easier," Kerkman said. "These are tools we didn't have available when I started working here."

"With a GPS unit, we can achieve great location accuracy in preparing a land tract for a timber sale," Mentzel said. "The unit we have is worn in a backpack style and is strong enough to pick up a satellite signal beneath the tree canopy. Achieving accuracy in our readings is crucial to the overall management of our program."

Kerkman said the Forestry Office also now works closer than ever with Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security (DPTMS) training planners.

"We plan timber sales in concert with DPTMS," Kerkman said. "For example, (DPTMS planners) will tell us about areas that need to have trees harvested and cleared and we'll work out our timber sales to get that work done."

Celebrating public lands

America celebrates National Public Lands Day on the last Saturday of September. For 2016, it's Sept. 24. The observance is a signature event of the National Environmental Education Foundation and promotes both popular enjoyment and volunteer conservation of public lands.

At Fort McCoy, land is used for military training, and the general public also uses the land for activities, including hunting, fishing, camping, and more.

"Taking care of our public land is important because it's part of a public trust," Kerkman said. "American taxpayers own public land, so it's our job to make sure it's managed well so future generations can enjoy it."

Kerkman said he's also enjoyed being one of many caretakers of Fort McCoy's public lands.

"It's been a real pleasure to see the forest grow and change here in the 31 years I've been here," Kerkman said.

"For the future, I hope the forest continues to stay healthy and diverse and our public land provides all that it does today."

For more information about the Forestry program and about public land use at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-2102.