Savanna - Prairies - Driftless Area - Habitat Restoration
We bought a 420-acre farm in the Driftless Area of west central Wisconsin (Buffalo County) in 2000. It had been a dairy farm for many years, but by then the cows had gone, and the only crops were 150 acres of corn and soybeans. We decided it would be fun and interesting to try to restore it back to the way it would have been before it was farmed. We’ve added a few more pieces of surrounding land, so now we have just under 500 acres.
Our land has five large dry bluff prairie remnants, and numerous smaller prairie openings. Much of the woods is overgrown savanna. There are about 50 acres of wetland with remnants of wet prairie and sedge meadow, as well as old, abandoned farm fields. In addition to planting prairie in the old crop fields, we’ve been working to enlarge the bluff prairies, open the savannas by clearing out smaller trees and brush, remove invasives, and replant damaged areas of the wetland.
We’re trying to learn as much as we can about all the pieces of the ecosystem – plants, birds, animals, and insects. We’ve been keeping inventories of everything we’ve found and what we’ve learned about them. You can see those inventories and more at www.prairiehaven.com.
Another part of our effort here is to reduce our carbon footprint as much as we can. The habitat restoration project is a substantial carbon offset, but we’ve also made the switch to renewable power. We’ve built a well-insulated house and installed solar panels which make more electricity than we use. We have electric hot water, geothermal heat, and an electric car, all of which soak up some of the excess and further reduce the carbon footprint. We can make the case that we offset somewhere between 30 and 50 family’s worth of carbon.
Like most owner/stewards of our generation, we are thinking about who will pick up when it’s time for us to move along. It’s complicated – way too complicated a puzzler to just dump on our kids to solve. We put a conservation easement on our land the year we bought it. We gently regret some of those overly prescriptive decisions now that our knowledge and understanding of this unique place has matured over the decades we’ve worked here. Some of the restrictions we dreamed up will also make it harder for us to stay on the land and continue the project in our later years.
We also didn’t anticipate the upward price pressure that deer hunting would put on land like ours. We aren’t against hunting, but most of the buyers that are likely to prevail in the open market will be absentee owners who are unlikely to take an active interest in continuing the work that we’ve started.
On the other hand, our decision to steer the land away from the DNR seems to have been a good one. It seems too easy for preservation projects to be derailed or damaged as the political winds change, and the DNR doesn’t have the resources or will to continue what we’ve started.
Another good decision was not to specify what techniques should or should not be used in the restoration. The focus of our efforts is ever broadening. We focused on planting native plants in the beginning, now our efforts encompass a lot more of the ecosystem, especially when it comes to bringing back the critters, bugs and birds that need the habitat to survive.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
We hope Conservation Sellers will develop into a community where we can work out possible options to address these puzzlers, and locate like-minded buyers who have the resources and enthusiasm to carry on the quest when it’s time for us to go.