Archived entries for Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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.”

 

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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”.

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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”.

 

Nature’s Beauty and Capacity to Heal

As a young boy scout, Doug Jones learned that “you leave your spot better than you found it.” To this day he and his wife Sherryl adhere to this adage. In December 2014 Doug and Sherryl permanently protected a part of their land with Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC).

This restored prairie, situated next to a secluded lake along the Wisconsin River, is helping protect an array of beautiful and brilliantly colored rare fish that call the lake home. According to Dave Marshall, retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist and current Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) researcher and board member, these rare fish are “much like the proverbial canaries in the coal mines. They reflect the health of these lakes, which are crucial to the health of the river.”

the Jones

Sherryl & Doug Jones

The prairie restoration, planted and maintained by Doug and Sherryl, filters nutrients from groundwater before it reaches the lake. In past years, excess nutrients created thick, dense algal blooms that threatened the future of the rare fish that live only in lakes like these. Since Doug and Sherryl planted the prairie on their property, FLOW has measured – through groundwater and surface water samples – a steady decline in nutrients in the lake next to the Jones’ prairie.

In past years, excess nutrients created thick, dense algal blooms

In past years, excess nutrients created thick, dense algal blooms.

According to Sherryl, “we planted the prairie because we simply thought it was beautiful, but it’s incredibly rewarding to know that we’re also improving water quality and protecting these special animals.” This unique project serves as a model for protecting waterways throughout the Driftless Area. It was made possible through a partnership between DALC, FLOW and the Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA).  MEA and FLOW provided funding to DALC to protect lands along the Lower Wisconsin River, with a focus on improving water quality.

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.

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Herb Behnke

Wisconsin has lost another great conservationist.  Herbert Frederick “Herb” Behnke, age 88 of the Town of Richmond, passed away Sunday, December 8, in Shawano. In honor of his legacy, we would like to share this obituary, by Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel:

Herb Behnke of Shawano, former chairman and longest serving member of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, has died. He was 88.

Behnke was born and raised on a Lena dairy farm, youngest of 10 children, and grew to become one of the state’s most respected conservation leaders.

Behnke was a strong advocate for an independent Department of Natural Resources as well as for use of the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program to protect land from development.

In his vocation, Behnke left the farm to work at Cooperative Resources International (CRI), a Shawano-based animal breeding business, where he became vice president of marketing. 

This photo was taken Nov. 3, 2011 by Paul Smith of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It shows Herb and Lenore in Stevens Point at the inaugural ceremony for the Herb & Lenore Behnke Scholarship. The scholarship was established at UW-Stevens Point to support natural resources students pursuing a degree in law enforcement.

This photo was taken Nov. 3, 2011 by Paul Smith of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It shows Herb and Lenore in Stevens Point at the inaugural ceremony for the Herb & Lenore Behnke Scholarship. The scholarship was established at UW-Stevens Point to support natural resources students pursuing a degree in law enforcement.

Gov. Warren Knowles in 1968 appointed Behnke to the newly formed Natural Resources Board. He served until 1972. He was appointed again by Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1989 and served until 2006. He chaired the board from 1993 to 1997.

Behnke became known for forthrightness, common sense and independence.

“I always believed conservation decisions should be made on what’s best for the resource, not a political party,” Behnke said.

A lifelong hunter and angler, Behnke in 1961 was appointed by Gov. Gaylord Nelson to the Wolf River Basin Regional Planning Commission. 

Six years later Gov. Knowles named Behnke to the Wisconsin Conservation Commission, predecessor to the DNR board. 

In 1995, Behnke strongly opposed a move by Gov. Thompson – who had appointed him to the NRB – to make the DNR secretary a cabinet position.

Behnke testified before the Joint Finance Committee that the governor’s proposal would be bad for conservation in Wisconsin.

Though he rubbed shoulders with chief executives and holders of high political office, Behnke never forgot his roots. He earned a reputation as a man of the people by demonstrating honesty, humor, humility and integrity for more than four decades.

He was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 2009.

“I never really listened much to special interest groups,” Behnke said in his induction to the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame. “To me, it was the common men and women who loved to hunt and fish, and what they wanted.”

Behnke remained active in recent years in various conservation and civic causes, including serving on the board of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and several wildlife groups.

He and his wife Lenore also endowed a scholarship in the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point.

Behnke had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis in recent years, then was diagnosed with leukemia in September. He chose not to undergo chemotherapy for the leukemia.

Over the last three months, he received care at home from Lenore and a hospice nurse. Behnke had a bed placed in a room that provided views to his beloved Wolf River, just east of the house.

He enjoyed visits from many guests and frequent telephone conversations with friends and well-wishers. 

“A positive part of this situation is I have no dietary restrictions,” Behnke told me in late September. “In fact, I might become a diabetic from all the sweets people are bringing.”

His strength declined over the last week, perhaps due to pneumonia, Lenore said. On Sunday he was taken to a hospital in Shawano where he died Sunday night.

Behnke is survived by his wife Lenore of Shawano and their son Crispen, daughter-in-law Kelly and two granddaughters, all of Rochester, Minn.

A memorial service is planned at 11 a.m. on Dec. 17 at St. James Lutheran Church in Shawano. Visitation will be at the church from 9 to 11 a..m.

834,502 acres…what a legacy!

Dick Steffes served WI’s Department of Natural Resources’ Real Estate program in various capacities for 39 years and in those years he has more than earned his title of Policy Maker of the Year. Dick spent his tenure using the funds made available to him in the wisest and most creative ways possible, helping to preserve some of the true gems on Wisconsin’s landscape.

His leadership and influence helped to preserve over 834,502 acres throughout Wisconsin. He was a leader in the pioneering use of easements to secure public access while maintaining strong forests and was instrumental in the negotiations and acquisitions of hundreds of acres of Forest Legacy lands. These easements secure public recreational access and ensure best management of the state’s forest resources.

His achievements include some of the largest conservation purchases in Wisconsin’s history: The Wild Rivers Legacy Forest, The Chippewa Flowage Legacy Forest, and most recently the St. Croix-Brule Legacy Forest, all of which will now be available for future generations to enjoy.

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Dick’s retirement in December 2012 has left large shoes to fill for the DNR’s real estate program. His keen instinct for opportunity and deep respect for sellers, partners, and the public whose funds were invested cannot easily be matched.  Those who had the opportunity to work with him have felt privileged to do so.

Please join us in celebrating and honoring Dick’s many achievements at our annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Ceremony on September 26th at the Monona Terrace in Madison, WI.

Stewardship begets salamanders, clean water

A special thank you to John Torinus, who so eloquently states the importance of the Stewardship Program in this post, which originally appeared on his blog, johntorinus.com.

spotted-salamander“Doctor Herp” called about 6 p.m. on a cold and rainy night recently and asked if we wanted to check out salamander matings in an ephemeral pond on a choice piece of Kettle Moraine land.

I declined and headed for the hot tub, but my wife Kine, educated as a biologist and a hugger of all species, said yes. She donned her waders and joined Gary Casper, the state’s best-known herpetologist, for what they considered an ideal outing.

They happily reported that the wet spring had a positive effect on biological processes and that there will be an abundance of small herptiles later in the season.

Of note, the property is owned by the Cedar Lake Conservation Foundation and was purchased with a grant from the Wisconsin Stewardship Fund. Critics of conservation efforts may sneer at the preservation of friendly environs for salamanders, but they are misguided. If the salamanders, toads and frogs are in trouble, we are in trouble, too.

Let us count the ways that preserved lands and the Stewardship Fund make a difference in our lives:

• Hundreds of cross country skiers use the same land east of Big Cedar Lake during the winter months on trails groomed by volunteers from the Fox Hill Nordic Ski Club. They make for a healthier community.

• Even more hikers, birders and dog walkers use the trails in the other three seasons. Open access is guaranteed under Stewardship rules.

• The ephemeral ponds allow for slow absorption of rain and snow melt back into the underlying aquifers and filter the run-off to Cedar Creek, the Milwaukee River and eventually Lake Michigan. Those would be our drinking waters.

• Any absorption upstream reduces flooding downstream.

• The lands surround Fox Hill, one of the finest kames in the Kettle Moraine, thus protecting its scenic contribution to our county.

This encounter with the salamanders may not seem pivotal in the grand affairs of mankind, but it embodies some larger issues that we need to be thinking about. And it is a timely issue because a group of accounting types in the Republican Part have raised the possibility of deleting all the funds for the Stewardship program.

The fund, which was created by bipartisan cooperation between Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson and Republican Gov. Warren Knowles, has spawned the creation of 55 land trusts in Wisconsin. These trusts, along with other organizations like Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and The Nature Conservancy, have been providing the matching funds to protect lands that can be used for hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing and all manner of recreation.

One of the most active has been the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has protected more than 5000 acres, much of it along the banks of the Milwaukee River. Along with funds for absorption areas from the Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewer District, Stewardship dollars have mitigated downstream flooding. That indirectly helps to cut raw sewage outflows into Lake Michigan.

The Republicans cut the funding for Stewardship from $83 million to $60 million for the very tight 2011-2013 budget. It was necessary because of the huge deficit entering that biennium. But the economy is stumbling to higher ground, so the austerity argument no longer applies. (In comparison, the Republicans in Madison are dumping more than $600 million in new dollars into the under-managed Medicaid program.)

Meanwhile, we’re not doing so hot when it comes to protecting our natural resources. West Bend is down to 700 feet for drinking water; it was 50 feet in the old days. Germantown is drilling down to 1200 feet. And Waukesha’s wells are sucking radon. A lot of municipalities are considering a default to Lake Michigan water.
Lake Michigan levels are at all time lows.

And Milwaukee Riverkeepers gave the Milwaukee River Basin a Grade “D.”

Here’s are pieces of the assessment: “Generally, turbidity readings in the two watersheds (Kinnickinnic and Menomonee) were very poor; dissolved oxygen and chloride grades were only mediocre; and both received failing grades for phosphorous, conductivity and indicators of bacteria.”

As for the Washington County parts of the assessment, “The Milwaukee River Watershed, consisting of the North Branch, East and West Branch and South Branch watersheds. as well as the Cedar Creek sub-watershed, dropped from a B- to a C in 2011. “ Some of the metrics were OK, but the whole watershed received an “F” for conductivity, phosphorous and bacteria.
Filtration helps all of those issues, which is why the land trusts have been accepting easements and buying lands along the riverbanks.

I have always had a hard time figuring out why conservatives in the GOP have gone anti-conservation. Conserving valuable resources, like our drinking and recreational waters, is a conservative thing to do. It should be looked at as an investment, not spending.

Conservation is also good politics. All polls show that a large majority of Americans, including hunters and anglers, are pro-conservation.

The GOP shouldn’t let short-sighted accountants drive the bus.

Post-Election Rundown

With the November elections behind us, we’re now focused on the upcoming state budget process here in Wisconsin and several important issues in Congress.  We will continue our non-partisan approach to our public policy work, reaching out and connecting land trusts with elected officials across the political spectrum.

One notable take-away from the recent elections is that conservation continues to be a high priority for citizens across the country, with 46 of 57 conservation-related ballot measures passing nationwide (an 81 percent success rate).  Through these measures, communities across the country approved more than $2 billion in conservation funding.

At the state level, we’ve been preparing for the next state budget process, which will formally begin with the release of the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal in January.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, the state begins the 2013 fiscal year with a $342.1million surplus which is the largest opening balance since fiscal year 2000-01.

We are focused on our two top priorities – the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the statewide Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program.  The Stewardship Program is authorized at $60 million annually through 2020, and we will be working with the Governor’s office, the Department of Natural Resources, and leadership in the Legislature to maintain this funding and to ensure that the program operates efficiently, and with the utmost transparency and accountability.  The Stewardship Program continues to be strongly supported by the public and provides direct support to the state’s tourism and forestry sectors, while enhancing the quality of life in communities throughout the state.

The statewide PACE program remains on the books but is currently unfunded and we are partnering with the American Farmland Trust and a broad Friends of Farmland Protection coalition to advocate for the program and identify possible sources for future funding.  Early this year, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection released a PACE Evaluation Report, which provides a good basis for stream-lining and improving the program.

On the federal front, we are currently in a 45-day sprint to renew the enhanced tax incentive for the donation of easements and to pass the Farm Bill before Congress adjourns.  We’ve been working with partners like the Nature Conservancy, the Land Trust Alliance, and land trusts throughout the Great Lakes region to move these important conservation priorities forward.  Learn more.

As the negotiations on the “fiscal cliff” begin to ramp up, we’ve also been hearing that Congress may be looking to cap charitable deductions.  This issue is much larger than land trusts and would impact the broader nonprofit community nationwide, but it could have a very real impact on our work.  Learn more.

Please contact your elected officials to tell them how important these issues are for your organization and your community.  Here is contact information for state officials and for Wisconsin members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Stay tuned to the Conservation Policy section of our website for further updates.



Gathering Waters • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 • info@gatheringwaters.org