(WPR) -- Plans by the state to spend $7.2 million on a large conservation easement in northwest Wisconsin have won approval by the Natural Resources Board. 

The fast-moving proposal announced less than two weeks ago by Gov. Scott Walker would guarantee public hunting, fishing and trapping rights on nearly 21,000 acres of privately-owned land near Hayward. The landowner could do sustainable timber harvesting.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is calling the project the Lake of the Pines Conservation Easement. DNR Real Estate Section Chief James Lemke said people would be able to drive on more than 20y miles of private roads. "The abilities to create a perpetual access rights for the public to drive licensed vehicles is very important for the usability of the property," Lemke told the board during a meeting Wednesday.

Lemke said a $515,000 endowment fund — part of the purchase price — will help maintain the roads.

Birchwood resident Linda Zillmer urged the Board to slow down on the proposal. But Board Chairman Terry Hilgenberg said the DNR did a very careful review. "Now, are there some skeletons out there, yet? Oh, probably. Nothing's 100 percent. But, I think we're about as close as we're going to get, on this one," Hilgenberg told the board. 

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation testified in favor of the easement. But Federation leader George Meyer reminded the board the agency's stewardship program will end in two years, unless state lawmakers renew it.

Read more news from Wisconsin Public Radio.



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