What started as a state budget item to investigate has turned into an order to move for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Forestry Division.

Gov. Scott Walker announced Oct. 25 that the state forestry headquarters will shift from Madison to the DNR Rhinelander Service Center. Wisconsin’s Chief State Forester Fred Souba will be there by Jan. 1, and other forestry positions currently located in Madison will move to Rhinelander or locations north of Highway 29 in phases.

DNR Forestry was directed in the 2015-16 state budget cycle to investigate an appropriate northern location and estimate costs of a move. Hayward, Rhinelander and Wausau were identified as preferred locations. Walker’s 2017-19 budget, signed in September, directed Souba’s move north to a state-owned facility but did not name the location.

“This move will put the Division of Forestry and its leadership in a better position to work with the primary forest industries in the state,” said Walker, who made the announcement in Rhinelander. “We will also be able to work more closely with our forestry industry partners in growing the state’s $24.7 billion forest industry that already generates nearly 65,000 jobs.”

A news release from the governor’s office did not say how many staff members would move, but the budget allows for 56.5 full-time positions to relocate. Other members of the forestry leadership team will also be in the Rhinelander headquarters by the first of the year.

“The DNR is looking forward to the opportunity of better serving the area where most of the state’s timber industry is located,” said DNR Secretary Dan Meyer. “Together with partners such as the U.S. Forest Service, Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association and the Wisconsin County Forest Association, we can better support and serve a thriving industry that is so important to our state’s economy.”