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2019 Crawford County Conservation Awards handed out at Fair
Conservation Award Winners 2019
THE WINNERS of the Conservation Awards given at this year’s Crawford County Fair include, from left, sitting, Paige Kessler; front row from left, Colleen Gibson, Dotty McKee, Karen and Guy Williams, Chuck Gartland, Jim Showen, and Becky Kramer; back row from left, Mark Gibson, Paul Smith, Scott Kessler, Wendell Showen, John Leirmo, and Forest Jahnke.

CRAWFORD COUNTY - Crawford County Conservationist David Troester, and the members of the Land Conservation Committee (LCC), chair Henry ‘Buzz’ Esser, Kim Moret, Wade Dull, David Olson and Don Dudenbostel, were on hand on Thursday, August 22, to hand out some well-deserved Conservation Awards.

The awards, handed out annually at the ‘Land Conservation Awards’ ceremony at the Crawford County Fair, are given in the following categories:

• Friend of Conservation

• Wildlife Conservation

• Conservation Educator

• Conservation Forestry

• Water Quality

• Farm Family of Year (see separate story)

Friend of Conservation

The 2019 Friend of Conservation Award goes to Crawford Stewardship Project. CSP is an environmental and land use advocacy group whose stated mission is to protect the environment of Crawford County and neighboring regions from threats of polluting and extractive industries, to promote sustainable land use, environmental justice, and local control of natural resources.  

Formed over a decade ago, Crawford Stewardship Project has addressed controversial issues such as concentrated animal feeding operations, frac sand mining, high capacity wells, and utility projects, in ways that bring municipalities, communities, and organizations together for productive discussions.

Troester, in his remarks, emphasized a couple of CSP’s environmental projects that to highlight.  CSP’s Stream Water Quality Monitoring Program has focused monitoring on streams of specific concern and supports landowners’ interests in monitoring.  Each year, trained volunteers monitor phosphorous and E-coli levels, dissolved oxygen, water temperatures, transparency, streamflow, habitat, and even macroinvertebrates to assess the health of our area streams.

Crawford Stewardship Project’s Karst Landscapes and Groundwater Susceptibility Survey of the county mapped out known sinkholes, caves, and areas with shallow soils to create special groundwater risk areas.  These types of areas can be more susceptible to groundwater contamination as there are direct conduits from the surface to the groundwater. 

Concerned with well water quality, Crawford Stewardship Project also implemented a Drinking Water Education and Testing Campaign this past year to raise awareness of the importance of testing wells to ensure safe drinking water. They were also able to cover 80 percent of the cost of the sample analysis for over 50 wells in the county. With the knowledge and experience gained from this project, they are now assisting with a similar Crawford-Richland-Vernon well-testing study known as the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS).

“In appreciation of their efforts to protect our environment, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee is proud to present the 2019 Friend of Conservation Award to Crawford Stewardship Project,” Troester said.

Wildlife Conservation

Most years, the Crawford County LCC presents the Wildlife Conservation award to a property owner that has made significant wildlife habitat improvements to their wooded hills, native prairies, or oak savannas.  This year, however, the LCC wanted to recognize a group who worked to stabilize 2,100 feet of stream bank and create major improvements to the fish habitat in the stream.  That group is the Sleepy Hollow Owners Association.

The association was formed in 2006 by a group of property owners who loved the outdoors and trout fishing, and wanted to live and/ or vacation along this beautiful trout stream in northeast Crawford County.  The properties flank a 1.3-mile stretch of the West Fork of Knapp Creek, a stream with native brook trout. The stream is faced with bank erosion that can impact water quality.

The association became aware of initiatives to restore streams in the Driftless Area, and began working with Trout Unlimited.  A project kickoff meeting in September of 2014 included Dave Vetrano, former DNR stream biologist, and Travis Bunting, Conservation Specialist for Crawford County.  A neighbor, Harriet Behar, had recently completed a project on her property along the stream west of Sleepy Hollow, and she provided valuable insight into the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s programs.

“Sleepy Hollow Owners Association met with Karyl Fritsche, NRCS District Conservationist in early 2015 to discuss the project.  Karyl agreed to work with the association bundled as one group even though they normally only work with single landowners,” Troester said.  “This placed additional administrative burden on the NRCS to get them enrolled in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), for which Sleepy Hollow is very thankful.  Karyl worked with them to increase their ranking making them more likely to receive funding.”

Also in 2015, Travis Bunting, and Adam Achenbach and Mike Dreischmeier of the NRCS, conducted more thorough stream survey work.  Achenbach then designed the stream restoration plan. This plan was submitted in 2016 to the DNR to obtain the stream work permit.  The association also obtained permission from some neighbors’ properties to get better access to the restoration sites.

In 2017, the project was approved and funded by the NRCS.  The Showen Company was selected as the contractor and work began in June of 2018.  Almost 2,100 feet of riprap rock was placed along 29 vulnerable locations, and another 3,700 feet of eroded banks were sloped back, shaped, and re-vegetated. 

“What really separates this project from others was the amount of fish habitat that was added to the stream.  Rock weirs, deflectors, j-hooks, and large boulders were placed at specific locations along the stream,” Troester said.  “Though this added a significant cost to the project, Sleepy Hollow wanted to ensure that the stream habitat was greatly improved.  This work will not only benefit the trout, but will also improve habitat for numerous species of reptiles and amphibians that make their home in and along the stream.”

Some areas of the project suffered some flood damage from a severe storm shortly after the work was completed, but a repair plan has already been developed to correct the damage.  Had the work not been done on the stream, the damage would have been much worse.

“Sleepy Hollow Owners Association told me they are committed to making their properties a sanctuary for nature.  This stream project has laid the foundation for this goal,” Troester said. “They tell me their efforts to improve the riparian area will continue.  They plan to work with Valley Stewardship Network to develop strategies to improve native vegetation through mowing and prescribed burning.  Pheasants Forever is working with them to improve both bird and pollinator habitat.  Some property owners are even managing bees and building waterfowl nest boxes.”

“As you can see, Sleepy Hollow Owners Association is very committed to protecting the scenic beauty and overall health of the stream and surrounding landscape,” Troester said. “For that reason, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee is proud to present them with the 2019 Wildlife Conservation Award.”

Conservation Educator

“The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee’s primary task is to work with landowners, mostly agricultural producers, to protect our soil and water quality, while supporting agriculture as the primary lifeblood of our rural areas,” Troester said.  “With issues such as conversion to row crops, increasing land prices, and fluctuating commodity pricing threatening to change our agricultural landscape, it is essential that we have assistance in promoting sustainable agriculture.   The LCC is proud to recognize an individual who has provided exemplary agricultural outreach to many youth in our county. This year’s Conservation Educator Award goes to Becky Kramer.”

Kramer grew up on a 425-acre dairy farm in northeast Iowa. She received a degree in Dairy Science from Iowa State University.  After working in the dairy genetics field in Pennsylvania for a while, she moved back to the area in 1996 when her parents, Dale and Judy Cowell, decided to sell the home dairy farm in Iowa and begin an operation in Wisconsin instead.  

Kramer took a job as a field representative, working with dairy producers in the tri-state area, on issues such as genetics and artificial insemination.  Becky and her husband Travis operate a beef and dairy farm near Wauzeka, and have three children, Regan, 16, Luke, 14, and Jake, 9.  All three kids have an active role on the farm and enjoy sports, 4-H, and FFA.  Becky has been very involved with 4-H and FFA herself.

“Becky is the FFA and 4-H Dairy Judging Coach, having helped several area students advance to the state competition.  In between this coaching, and farming, and many family activities, Becky also serves as the Crawford County Dairy Princess Coordinator,” Troester said. “This role helps to promote the dairy industry and increases consumer awareness.”

When I asked why she enjoyed being involved with these outreach activities, she told me, “Working with youth in agriculture is very rewarding. I enjoy helping to spark their interest for a possible future in the ag industry.  My husband and I enjoy volunteering with youth programs where needed and I feel the future looks very promising for young agriculturists.”

“For her mentorship to hundreds of area students in the field of agriculture, especially the dairy industry, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee proudly presents the 2019 Conservation Educator Award to Becky Kramer,” Troester said.

Conservation Forestry

The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee recognizes landowners that take active roles in managing their properties.  The Conservation Forestry Award is presented to landowners that manage their woodlands for reasons other than simply maximizing their profits off of the land.  According to Troester, a great example of this is the work done by Guy and Karen Williams.

“The Williams grew up in eastern Wisconsin.  Beginning back in the 1970’s, Guy would often travel across the state with some friends for a duck hunting trip on the Mississippi River near the Lansing Bridge,” Troester said.   “Even back then, Guy knew this area could be a wonderful place for a getaway.  Duck hunting on the river and hunting and hiking the surrounding bluffs sounded ideal to him.”  

In the 90’s when Guy and Karen were preparing to purchase a recreational spot, they focused on this area.  Having gone to college in La Crosse, Karen knew the beauty and opportunities this part of the state had to offer and the drive from their Madison-area home was not too far to make regular trips.

After a short search, they found a 69-acre farm in northern Clayton Township.  It had around 18 acres of tillable ground.  The ridge-top fields were about 15 acres while the three-acre tobacco field laid in the valley.  The house was gone, but the tobacco barn remained.  There was also 50 acres of steep wooded hillsides - perfect for what they were looking for.  

“Guy told me that while they do hunt deer and turkeys on the property, the land is definitely not managed solely for hunting,” Troester said.

In their first year, the Williams put the land into the Wisconsin DNR’s Forest Crop Program to help improve their stand and reduce their taxes.  The land had been logged about 10 years prior, and the woods were pretty brushy and rough.  Looking for a combination of both healthy woods and robust wildlife habitat, they felt it best to wait on any major timber projects.

A few years ago, the Williams conducted their first timber harvest.  It was for a limited area, and they harvested mostly mature red oak and maples.  After the harvest, the DNR had them do some release cuttings to give the young hardwoods an advantage in filling in the new openings.  That concept seems to be working perfectly.  

“Seeing the beautiful young oaks regenerating has inspired Guy and Karen to take on more active management of their remaining woods,” Troester said. “They hope to speed up the creation of a diverse and high quality habitat.”

As members of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, The Nature Conservancy, and the Madison Audubon Society, conservation is clearly something Guy and Karen are passionate about.  

When Troester asked them why conservation was so important to them, Guy had this to say:

 “We are most of all lovers of the woods and wildlife.  We get a lot of pleasure out of finding where a wood duck or red-headed woodpecker has nested in a tree cavity, or hearing a cerulean or blue-winged warbler singing in the spring,” Williams told Troester.  “The spring ephemerals are as interesting to us as the trees are. We understand the role timber harvests can serve, but would never do one that would harm the overall health of the woods.  Our intention is to pass the land on to the next person better than we found it.”

“That land ethic is what makes them such deserving award winners, and the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee proudly presents the 2019 Conservation Forestry Award to Guy and Karen Williams,” Troester said.

Note: The Independent apologizes for the fact that, due to human error, the Willams’ award was inadvertently omitted in the print version of this story. We will print the Willams’ story in the September 5 issue of the paper.

Water Quality

“The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee understands that having clean groundwater and surface water is one of our resident’s most important conservation desires.  The Land Conservation Department works directly with property owners on conservation practices that have a direct impact on improving our water quality,” Troester said.  “Providing technical advice and financial cost-sharing to property owners is very important, but there also needs to be a contractor involved that has the experience and understanding of the high standards to which we require these projects be constructed.”  

Troester said that the LCC wanted to recognize the important work that one of the county’s contractors performs, the Land Conservation Committee has selected The Showen Company as the 2019 Water Quality Award Winner.

The Showen Company is operated by Jim Showen and his son Wendell. Originally from this area, they are passionate about natural resources, spending plenty of time hunting and fishing here in the county.  The family farm has several miles of trails and is managed with conservation efforts such as CRP and forest management.  Jim has over 35 years in the construction industry, and this combination of construction experience and a desire to protect our natural resources has led to The Showen Company working on numerous conservation projects each year.

Some of the structures that The Showen Company has completed in the past few years alone include grassed waterways, river clean-up via tree and snag removal, boat landing construction, many dams, and several miles of streambank stabilization.  They did a large streambank project on the property of last year’s Water Quality Award winner, Ed and Maggie Lund, and performed the work for the Sleepy Hollow Owners Association that won an award this year.  

They are currently involved in another large streambank restoration project on private land, working with Trout Unlimited and the NRCS.  

“Jim told me they really like to add in features to their rip-rap projects, including fish structures, weirs, root balls, and deflectors,” Troester said.  “Aside from stabilizing the banks and reducing sedimentation, they are improving the quality of habitat in the streams they work on.”

When asked why they feel these conservation practices are so important, Jim stated, “I have seen a lot of change in land use over the years and now lately severe weather seems to be more and more damaging.  Things must be done to help minimize these damages, whether it be structures at the top of the hills or stabilization in the streams themselves.”

“For their desire and ability to construct these conservation structures that must meet high technical standards, thus helping to protect our water quality, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee presents the 2019 Water Quality Award to The Showen Company,” Troester said.