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Resource ID: #25961
Subject: Property And Tax Records
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel



Woodland owners in Wisconsin get huge tax breaks for enrolling property in a state-run managed forest program. In exchange, property owners agree to allow hunters, hikers and others to enjoy the land. The trouble is, while taxpayers pick up the roughly $29 million tab, few get to enjoy the benefits. Property owners - who collectively have enrolled more than 1 million acres in the program - have found ways to keep the public out, including creating phantom companies to fence off the property and otherwise discourage visitors. Some parcels allowed into the program would only be accessible to the public by helicopter, for example. In addition, the property is difficult to locate, and the state agency overseeing the program makes it more so by not providing maps, access points or even the phone numbers of the property owners. The Journal Sentinel obtained a database of all the land in the program, calculated the cost to taxpayers and created an interactive map, making the land significantly more accessible to the public. The map was so comprehensive that, once the project ran, the newsroom was able to make it the center of a marketing campaign to hunters and hikers - a significant innovation in repackaging existing content in a user-friendly (and money-making) way.

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