Archived entries for Stories of Stewardship

Driftless Area Land Conservancy named Land Trust of the Year

Land Trust of the Year Award – Driftless Area Land Conservancy is a nationally accredited land trust that has protected over 7,000 acres of unique natural and agricultural landscapes in southwest Wisconsin. Through the strong leadership of their board and the tireless efforts of their staff, the Conservancy has grown into an invaluable local asset: working to protect the natural resources of their region and providing public access, advocacy, and outdoor education programming in communities across their 5-county service area.

The Driftless Area Land Conservancy organizes countless educational programs, field trips, special events, training opportunities, and community conservation projects each year.

Under the leadership of their Executive Director Dave Clutter, the Conservancy is actively developing an ambitious plan to increase public access through the Driftless Area Trail– a project that would connect three state parks and other state lands, creating  a nearly 50-mile hiking loop. The Trail has real potential to boost tourism and economic development in the region.

Dave Clutter, Executive Director of DALC at Erikson Conservation Area

While doing this important work, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy team has developed a reputation for “being a thoughtful, forward thinking, strategic and passionate nonprofit in Southwestern Wisconsin,” according to Paul Ohlrogge with UW Extension. They also excel at fostering collaboration through efforts like the Lowry Creek Partnership near Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Taliesin, coordinating the Southwest Wisconsin Grasslands and Stream Conservation partnership, and facilitating multi-partner ecological restoration activities in the region.

The Conservancy has recently stepped up as an advocate for the unique landscape in the Driftless, organizing a coalition of community members opposed new transmission line infrastructure, which threatens to impact the scenic beauty and natural resources in the region.

Gathering Waters is thrilled to present the Land Trust of the Year Award to the Driftless Area Land Conservancy on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.

 

Jim Welsh named Conservationist of the Year

Conservationist of the Year – Jim Welsh, Executive Director of the Natural Heritage Land Trust (NHLT), has been instrumental in the protection of many of the most loved and valued places in south central Wisconsin. During Jim’s successful tenure over the past 15 years, NHLT has achieved national accreditation and now has conserved over 10,000 acres of farms, forests, prairies, and wetlands in and around Dane County.

Under Jim’s leadership, NHLT has preserved land in rural, agricultural, and urban environments, including  historical areas like John Muir’s original family farm in Marquette County. Jim, hailed by many as a thoughtful and committed leader, is passionate that everyone deserves access to nature and open spaces.  He has worked with community members to support important conservation education initiatives, including expanding the forest at Lakeview Elementary School, and protecting land for use by low-income communities as gardens for food production.

 

One of Jim’s nominators, Michael Foy, summed up his qualifications this way: “Jim is absolutely the model of an effective modern conservationist, and everything we could hope for in a land protection partner. His enthusiasm to try new approaches, professionalism, quiet good humor, realism, and dedication to land protection makes him a pleasure to work with.”

For these reasons and more, Gathering Waters is thrilled to present Jim Welsh with the Conservationist of the Year Award on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.

 

Family donates conservation easement at Rowan Creek State Fishery Area

The following post was written by our wonderful member Natural Heritage Land Trust.

 

Good news that yesterday a family with Madison roots permanently protected 165 acres of their beloved land through a voluntary conservation easement donated to Natural Heritage Land Trust.

The family’s land along Rowan Creek just west of Poynette in Columbia County boasts some remarkable views over the Rowan Creek valley and is being lovingly restored by the family.

Many threatened and endangered species have been found on the property, including slender glass lizard, massasauga rattlesnake, and ornate box turtle. The conservation easement ensures that the land will remain an undeveloped refuge for these and other animals and plants in perpetuity.

The property and its surrounding landscape is also culturally very rich, with a long history of use by Native Americans and farmers of European descent. And while it seems unbelievable, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival, Sound Storm, featuring the Grateful Dead, was held in a natural amphitheater on the property in 1970. Read the Wisconsin Historical Society’s article here.

We honor Telle Zoller for having the vision to protect this special place, forever. And, we thank the supporters of Natural Heritage Land Trust for making this project possible.

Yours in Conservation,

Jim Welsh
Executive Director

Natural Heritage Land Trust

Tree Farmer Permanently Protects Land on Arbor Day

Kann famliy celebrating the permanent protection of their beautiful tree farm.

The following press release was written by our land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy 

An award-winning local tree farmer is celebrating Arbor Day Friday by signing a land protection agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

Gerald Kann of La Crosse who was named north central region Outstanding Tree Farmer of the year in 2016 by the American Tree Farm System, is permanently protecting his 114-acre Monroe County tree farm with a conservation easement.

Kann, who also received recognition in 2014 as Wisconsin Outstanding Tree farmer of the Year, said it was a nice coincidence to be closing on the agreement on a day set aside to celebrate the role of trees in our lives.

From 1974 through 2016, the Kann family, including wife Charlotte and sons Kurt and Karl, planted over 45,200 trees on their property. For 25 years, the tree farm was operated as a “choose-and-cut” Christmas tree farm.

“The Kann Property truly demonstrates exceptional forest stewardship,” said Carol Abrahamzon, executive director for the conservancy. “Their dedication to caring for the land is apparent in both the hours they’ve spent taking care of the property and also in the sheer numbers of trees planted.”

A conservation easement is a partnership between a land trust and a conservation-minded landowner. The conservation easement ensures that the Kann tree farm cannot, at any point in the future and regardless of ownership, be converted to a residential subdivision or cornfield, but remain as a refuge for area wildlife.

Abbie Church, MVC conservation director, said that wildlife observed over the years by the owners include bobcat, fisher, black bear and badger. Her most recent visit to the property included serenades of spring frogs, including spring peepers, chorus frogs, and wood frogs, all of which can be heard right from the porch of the log cabin on the property. Winter hikes on the on the property provide an abundance of wildlife tracks, the forest resources providing food and cover throughout the year.

The citation for the Wisconsin award says that the winning tree farmer “must exhibit the most exceptional forest stewardship to protect and improve forest health, wildlife habitat, clean water and sustainable wood supplies, and must promote this stewardship within their communities.”

Church said that meshes with the Conservancy’s focus to “conserve the forests, prairies, wetlands, streams, and farms that enrich our communities for the health and well-being of current and future generations.”

20 Year Habitat Investment Protected Forever

The following press release was written by our land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

MONROE COUNTY, WIS – George and Carmeen Johnston of Norwalk have protected 20 years of work on their land in the headwaters of the Kickapoo River where they have restored native tallgrass prairie and removed invasive species.

By signing a conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy on the 54-acre property near Norwalk they have stated their wish that the prairies and oak woodlands on the property be protected from development, according to Megan Kabele, MVC conservation specialist who worked with the Johnstons on protecting their land. The development restrictions become part of the title to the land, which must be honored by future owners of the land. MVC will monitor the property once a year for compliance, according to the agreement.

George Johnston, a retired stream biologist and a longtime member of the Conservancy, said: “At some point Im going to be gone. I dont want whoever buys this place to be able to do whatever with it. Weve spent a lot of time caring for this place. I want to continue to have control over what happens with this land after Im not around anymore.”

He added that when he and Carmeen learned their land was in the Kickapoo River watershed they thought protecting the land would make a difference for water quality in the river. “It would be nice if more people would put conservation easements on their land.”

“Prescribed burning continues to be used to control invasive species and encourage native plants. As a result, the Johnston property features an incredible mix of habitat types that testify to their hard work and are a source of inspiration for landowners seeking prairie and woodland restoration,” Kabele said. The Johnston’s have not only protected their investment in habitat restoration, they are protecting rural open space values and are providing permanent vegetation for cleaner waters.

Carmeen Johnston said, “We are glad that our little bit of heaven can stay our little bit of heaven. We wouldn’t have known what to do, if it werent for Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

Asked to tell a favorite story about the land, George said that several years after they bought the property, he was out walking on the back side of the property. “All the western sunflowers were in bloom. I started looking around…the more I looked, the more species I found. We didnt know that back area was a prairie remnant. It was just really exciting to find a prairie remnant. I spent my career in fisheries, but I love plants. Ive always been more interested in botany than anything else. Ive spent my whole life outside. If I see something new, I have to identify it.”

Kabele said George’s work restoring the prairie has resulted in more native plants returning. “These improved habitats form natural communities that include wildflowers, grasses, and sedges — critical resources for declining pollinators.”

Carol Abrahamzon, MVC executive director, said, “Through their conservation easement George and Carmeen have provided an enduring legacy to future generations while achieving peace of mind, knowing that their land will be taken care of far into the future.”

Scenic farm and bluffland property protected forever.

We received some wonderful news last week from our member land trust Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC). If you have a connection to the Mississippi River Valley, or simply care about protecting special places in Wisconsin, you’ll want to read MVC’s press release below:

Mississippi River Valley Property Conserved

A drive the through the Mississippi River Valley now features brilliant fall colors, and a short distance east of Ferryville, Mississippi Valley Conservancy has ensured 189-acres of scenic bluffland will remain intact for future generations. The Conservancy completed a conservation agreement with Ken and Deneen Kickbusch on Thursday, October 20th to permanently protect their 189-acre farm and bluffland.  The voluntary conservation agreement protects the scenic beauty and wildlife habitat by limiting future subdivision, development, mining, and other unsustainable activities that are inconsistent with the landowner’s wishes. The land remains in private ownership and is not open to the public.

“The animals and the birds don’t always have contiguous habitat, and our land can make a difference for the wildlife,” said Deneen, “we have so many great memories here.” Their memories include hunting trips with sons and grandsons, camping within view of the Mississippi River, working in the prairie, serenades by whippoorwills, and startling wood ducks out of the ponds.  Carol Abrahamzon, Executive Director for the Conservancy stated, “Ken and Deneen have been so thoughtful about the use of their land and the future of that land. We are honored to be a part of realizing their dream to protect the wildlife and its habitat.”

 

kickbusch-ac-007

The Kickbusch 189 acre property is comprised of farmland, bluffland and prairie communities. Its protection ensures wildlife and native plants will have suitable habitat, forever.  

Photo by: Mississippi Valley Conservancy

The Kickbusch’s bought the land in 1976, attracted to the rural character, the lack of buildings, and the wildlife. The land is a mix of agricultural land and wooded bluffs, with the steep rugged topography characteristic of the Driftless Area. Ken and Deneen recognized the importance of land preservation, watching changes to the landscape as commodity prices rise, stating, “a conservation easement would provide the kind of protection that this highly erodible land deserves”. Nationwide an acre of farmland is lost every minute from conversion to other land uses. Over the years, terraces and water retention ponds were added to the Kickbusch property to address soil erosion and runoff. “When we bought the property, we restored the ponds,” said Ken, “which were as full this year as they have ever been, and always used by the wood ducks. Once, I counted sixteen wood ducks flying out of the pond.”

The land also includes several “goat” prairies, labeled as such because the early settlers thought they were so steep, only a goat could climb them. The prairies include the same wildflowers and grasses that were present here 200 years ago. The agreement with the Conservancy ensures that habitat remains intact for wildlife, and future owners honor the conservation practices within the farmland. “There is just too much abuse of the land, devastating local communities, rivers, wildlife,” said Ken “we felt this was something solid, something real we could do for the future”.

great-plains-ladies-tresses

Great Plains Ladies Tresses Orchid, found on the Kickbusch property. The orchid was recently added to the DNR’s list of species of “Special Concern”. The native wildflowers & grasses found today have been present on the Kickbusch land for over 200 years. 

Photo by: Mississippi Valley Conservancy

“The Kickbusch’s land provides a great example of how little is known about the habitat right here in our backyard,” remarked Abbie Church, Conservation Director for the Conservancy, “as we walked through the prairie, we found a small stalk of snow-white blooms, and a Great Plains Ladies Tresses Orchid. We walked on to find five other stalks. This orchid was recently added to the Wisconsin DNR’s list of species of “Special Concern” and the University of Wisconsin herbarium has no previous records of this orchid being found in Crawford County. One week later we found yet another species of rare orchid, this time in the woods, another new record for Crawford County.” The prairie today is in great shape due to Ken and Deneen’s efforts. “Fifteen years ago Ken went out and cut the red cedars in the prairie,” according to Deneen, “It looks much better today than ever before; the prairie is so beautiful”.

 

Ron Endres named 2016 Conservationist of the Year

Ron Endres is a private landowner and champion of native area restoration in Dane County. In addition to being a model steward to his and many of his neighbors’ lands, Ron is also an incredibly active volunteer with numerous area organizations. But what truly makes him special is far more unique. From July through December, Ron works almost every day collecting, drying and processing native forb and grass seeds to provide them free-of-charge, to local non-profits and private landowners.

Ron leading the United Way Day-Of-Caring Volunteers seed collecting

Ron leading the United Way Day-Of-Caring Volunteers seed collecting.

Ron’s land stewardship activities are truly inspirational. He has worked over the last 25 years to reconstruct a 21 acre prairie and spends much of his time maintaining the land, adding to its species diversity and fighting back invasive species. He helps many of his neighbors as well, burning their prairies, treating their invasives, and restoring their land.

Ron is also an invaluable volunteer for many area organizations such as Dane County Parks, The Prairie Enthusiasts, The Ice Age Trail Alliance, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Swamplovers, and many others. He leads school kids and adult volunteers, serves on a board, is a chain saw team member, leads prairie plantings and burns, as well as seed collection and processing.

Ron leading a prairie planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Ron leading a prairie planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery.

It is, however, what Ron does in addition to these stewardship and volunteer activities that makes him so unique. From July through December, Ron works almost every day collecting, drying and processing native forb and grass seeds—providing hundreds of pounds and more than 100 species of seed, free of charge, to nonprofits and private landowners each year.

Ron’s seed collecting for donation

Ron’s seed collecting for donation

From big projects like a 23 acre planting at Hickory Hill in Cross Plains, a 30 plus acre planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery, and countless acres of planting at Swamplover’s conservancy—to small projects like Kettle Pond in Madison, a municipal restoration in Beloit, and a neighborhood restoration at Odana golf course; Ron’s seeds have ended up in restorations all over the county. His unwavering commitment to native habitat restoration makes it Gathering Waters’ honor to award Ron the prestigious Conservationist of the Year award. Ron will be presented with his award at a Friends of Wisdom Prairie Dinner Lecture on November 2. Click here to learn more and register.

Sense of Identity & Source of Revenue

Terrie Cooper, a lifelong resident of Door County, considered the view from the top of the bluff in the town of Liberty Grove, saying, “I grew up in Ellison Bay. This is my home. The Grand View property was an iconic view that we had all known and loved. It identified our community. I don’t think anybody ever realized that could change.”

Grand View by Julie Schartner 009a2(1)

This 16-acre property and its famous view are now permanently protected as the Grand View Scenic Overlook and Park—a place for visitors to picnic, take photos, reflect, and explore. Photo by Julie Schartner

 

From this Door County high point, one can see the sparkling waters of Green Bay, islands in the distance, and sheer bluffs topped by hardwood forests. Residents and visitors alike have enjoyed the scenic overlook for many years, often pulling over to the side of the road to snap photos or take in the majestic view. Only when construction of a 44-unit condominium development began on the property did people realize that this signature view could disappear.

Beyond the community concern, an economic threat also loomed. Door County draws over two million visitors every year, most of whom come to enjoy the scenery and outdoor activities. Tourism accounts for almost $300 million in annual revenue in Door County. Though privately owned, the Grand View property was a de facto tourist attraction that drew thousands of visitors each year.

SONY DSC

“My wife Vonnie and I drive into Ellison Bay every day and always slow down to marvel at the remarkable view. This very special place has been naively taken for granted until the past few years when the potential for development became real.” – Dave Callsen, community member, Photo by Door County Community Foundation

 

Concerned citizens approached Door County Land Trust to help find a solution. The land trust responded, marshaling its resources for what would be a five-year-long commitment to forge a path to preservation of the popular and iconic view. Their expertise in conservation and real estate led to successful grant-writing, private fundraising, and land purchase negotiations. They also partnered with the Town of Liberty Grove, which agreed to take eventual ownership of the land and manage it as a public park.

Through persistence and dedication, the land trust was able to secure funding for the overlook property through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the National Scenic Byway Program. The 16-acre property and its famous view are now permanently protected as the Grand View Scenic Overlook and Park—a place for visitors to picnic, take photos, reflect, and explore. Door County, known for its beautiful landscape, can rest assured that this destination spot will always remain.

A printable version of this story and others are available on our website. Feel free to share with legislators and media outlets to help save the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program!

Stories of Stewardship: Students of the Land

“Stories of Stewardship” is a special blog series that tells the stories of Wisconsin citizens whose lives and communities have benefited from the land conservation made possible through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program– a program so valuable, we at Gathering Waters work hard to ensure it remains well funded.

The following story was written by Roger Packard and David Musolf, of Jefferson County:

We might as well admit up front that we are addicted to ecological restoration. Fanatics. Bitten by the ‘prairie bug’ in a big way. With us, Leopold met his objective and then some.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Meeting the first part of Leopold’s objective—learning to see the land—was the hardest. Even though we have both been nature nuts all our lives, it took time and effort to see the big picture—to see beyond the rectangular grid imposed on the land by European settlers, to look under the pastoral façade and through the tangled mess of non-native vegetation where the farm fields ended. But once our eyes adjusted, myriad clues that had been hidden in plain view came into focus.

Reading these clues backwards in time, we began to understand how changing land use practices since the time of European settlement have altered native biological communities, and how, following the retreat of the glaciers, these diverse communities arose under the influence of fire, water and wind, as well as the influence the new plant and animal inhabitants, including humans.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

As for enjoyment—well, we couldn’t help that. To begin to understand how the area’s diverse biological communities developed is a real thrill. To begin using this understanding to restore the landscape that the Native Americans knew is more thrilling still. So, with our first six acres of prairie restoration in 1994, the positive feedback loop was in place. The developing restorations helped us to see the land and its inhabitants more clearly, our understanding of the land deepened, our enjoyment of the land increased, we took on more restorations…and before we knew it, we were hooked.

In 1997, we joined forces with the Madison Audubon Society to establish the Faville Grove Sanctuary. Together with Madison Audubon, we have protected our land through conservation easements. With the help of the state Stewardship Fund as well as various other governmental programs and private contributions, we have permanently protected a total of 510 acres. Together with other landowners, including the University of Wisconsin- Madison and The Nature Conservancy, we are managing over 800 acres within the Faville Grove Sanctuary boundary.

With a corps of dedicated volunteers, we have planted well over 200 acres of prairie by hand with hand-collected, local genotype seed from over 130 species. With crews of summer interns, we have eliminated a gazillion weeds. We have filled miles of drainage ditches (not by hand!), cleared acres of savanna of encroaching brush, and generally worked every spare minute to return the sanctuary lands to their pre-European-settlement grandeur.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Recently, together with a small army of sanctuary supporters, we accomplished something generally deemed impossible: we succeeded in rerouting a proposed electric transmission line that would have run through the sanctuary. In rejecting the ‘sanctuary route’ for the line, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin considered not only the ecological and aesthetic effects on the sanctuary, but the chilling effect the line would have had on future cooperative efforts to protect and restore private land in the state. The Public Service Commission decision underscores the importance of such efforts, and should reassure other landowners that the state will honor the sacrifices we make to protect the land.

In the 1930s and ‘40s, Aldo Leopold and his students worked with landowners in Faville Grove to develop methods to enhance wildlife on private lands. Leopold recognized then that conservation is “eventually too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed to be performed by government.” We suspect he also knew that by teaching students to see, to understand, and to enjoy the land, he would get them hooked on bringing the land back to life.

Building on Leopold’s legacy, Madison Audubon Society established the Faville Grove Sanctuary to protect the area and extend habitat for remnant populations of rare and endangered species. The sanctuary includes tamarack bog, sedge meadow, oak savanna and woods, as well as some of the state’s finest wet prairie restorations. Nearly $500,000 in grants from the Stewardship Fund have helped make possible the protection of this diverse and historic landscape.

Stories of Stewardship: A Sportsman on Stewardship

“Stories of Stewardship” is a special blog series that tells the stories of Wisconsin citizens whose lives and communities have benefited from the land conservation made possible through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program– a program so valuable, we at Gathering Waters work hard to ensure it remains well funded.

The following story was written by Jim Evrard, of Burnett County:

As a retired DNR wildlife biologist and an active volunteer in several conservation groups, I’ve been involved in public land acquisition in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years. When I started with the DNR, most of our acquisition money for wildlife management lands came from a tax charged on arms and ammunition. When Gaylord Nelson was governor, he created the Outdoor Recreation Act Program (ORAP), providing funds for recreational land acquisition by imposing a penny per pack tax on cigarettes. That program has evolved into the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program we know today.

crex staff 3

Now the lakeshore is completely owned by the public and should remain wild forever.

Many tracts of land near my home in Northwestern Wisconsin were bought with Stewardship funds, but a recent acquisition is my favorite. Some years ago, a key tract of land on the northwest corner of the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area was put up for sale. The 170-acre tract was an old farm with idle agricultural fields, a young red pine plantation and the northern half of a small prairie lake. A local attorney bought the land, and when he died, his widow inherited the old farm.

The south shore of the lake had been owned by the DNR for years, and it was home to nesting waterfowl, loons, and even a pair of osprey. It was feared that when the land on the northern side was sold, summer residences would be built and the wildlife use of the wetland would decrease drastically. But these fears were never realized due to good land stewardship by the former owners. The only change made to the land was a duck hunting blind used by the family on the northern edge of the lake. The widow’s son-in-law is conservation-minded, and he suggested that she sell the land to the DNR so that it would be included in the Crex Meadows project. Now the lakeshore is completely owned by the public and should remain wild forever.

crex birds in flight -- crex staff

Through the years, I’ve watched wildlife on the lake and surrounding grasslands.

In addition to the Stewardship Program, the Friends of Crex and the Sharp-tailed Grouse Society contributed funds to purchase the land, but the Stewardship Program was the catalyst that put together the partnership needed to buy the property. This partnership between a public agency and private conservation groups is a good example of  cooperation between the government and its citizens. This spirit of cooperation continues in other projects including habitat management and recreational development.

As a retired person on a pension, I can’t afford to own land for hunting and other outdoor recreation. Land values have skyrocketed to a point where only wealthy persons can afford to buy and own extensive tracts of land or lakeshore. The rest of us increasingly depend upon public property for our outdoor recreation needs. Through the
years, I’ve watched wildlife on the lake and surrounding grasslands. I’ve hunted deer and wild turkeys on the edges of the property since the DNR acquired the land, and I’m looking forward to hunting ducks on the lake. Thanks to the Stewardship Program, I should be able to continue my recreational use of the property for many years in the future.

The Crex Meadows Wildlife Area near Grantsburg, in Burnett County, encompasses over 30,000 acres of wetland, woodland, and restored brush prairie. The area has been publicly protected since 1946, with Stewardship funding continuing to support its growth, preservation and maintenance. Crex Meadows is known for its hunting, hiking and wildlife observation opportunities.



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