The forestry account administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will undergo an audit, according to the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
The call for an audit rose for the Wisconsin Council on Forestry in May at a time when the council was opposing the elimination of the state’s forestry mill tax in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 biennial budget. Council members wanted a better understanding of the division’s spending and the impact the lost tax might have.
Walker prevailed in having the forestry mill tax eliminated, but the audit was ordered by the Legislative Audit Committee at its Oct. 24 meeting.
According to a letter from Joe Chrisman, state auditor, the last Forestry Division audit was done for fiscal year 2000-01 and was prompted by “concerns about the extent to which funds from the forestry account were used for non-forestry related expenditures.”
The Legislative Audit Bureau found that 27.8 percent of DNR’s forestry account expenditures for that year were used for department-wide administration and support service costs. LAB also found that $4.5 million in expenditures from the forestry account had no direct relationship to forestry.
LAB said concerns have again been raised about forestry funds. The audit will be conducted and completed before June 30.
The forestry account is one of nine accounts that make up the Conservation Fund, a segregated trust fund administered by the DNR that provides support for a number of resource programs.
Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, a member of the Council on Forestry, said the Audit Bureau will not be making any value judgments on what they find but will simply identify and list expenditures that have been made.
Henry Schienebeck, chairman of the Wisconsin Council on Forestry, said the information will be helpful to the council in making informed recommendations to the DNR, the industry and the governor on forestry concerns.