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Crawford County conservation efforts honored at County Fair
County Con Winners
NOT ALL THE WINNERS of the Crawford County 2018 Conservation Awards were able to attend the ceremo-ny. Shown above, left to right, are Vance Haugen, Ed and Maggie Lund, and Bob Ziehl, Matt Davis, Mike Skaite, Chad Gruber, and Mike Hazen of the Bluff Country Long Spurs.

CRAWFORD COUNTY - Every year, the Crawford County Land and Water Conservation Department gives awards for Conservation Legacy, Water Quality, Wildlife Conservation, Conservation Forestry, Conservation Education and Farm Family of the Year.

David Troester, Crawford County Conservationist, reported that only three of the six award winners were able to be present for the awards ceremony.

“Dave Matheys has moved to Wyoming, and the rest of the winners who can’t be here tonight said that they have to do chores,” Troester said. “Imagine that.”

Conservation legacy

Troester began his remarks by explaining that the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee occasionally decides to award a Conservation Legacy award to a group or individual that has left a long-lasting impression in the county.  The Land Conservation Committee gave this year’s award to Vance Haugen, who retired from a 26-year career as Crawford County UW-Extension Agent in January of 2018.

“Vance Haugen is an individual whose career was dedicated to assisting area farmers and protecting our natural resources,” Troester said. “Over the last 26 years, Vance has been able to help hundreds of farmers develop proper grazing methods for beef and dairy cattle, goats and sheep. In later years even pasture hog grazing. All of this was with an eye for both profitably for the farmer and good environmental outcomes for the land.”

Shortly after coming to Crawford County, Vance was asked by local producers to assist in forming a Grazing Group. In 1993, they formed the Great River Graziers and still today they hold numerous pasture walks throughout the year.

“Getting 12 to 15 farmers to host walks during the year was never easy, much like trying to herd cats, but once the schedule was finalized in March the season was set until late fall or early winter,” Haugen said. “Over the years, a tremendous amount of education and outreach was accomplished with these simple pasture walks due to the excellent cooperation of the farmers, agency people, Crawford County support staff and other extension agents.”

Vance believes conservation practices must be environmentally sound, economically practical and applicable in a reasonable amount of time to be adopted. Rotational grazing has been that and more.

“I was proud to be of help to those producers that wanted help and I am glad that so many farmers and landowners were positively affected,” Haugen said.

Vance is also a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, GrassWorks, Green Lands Blue Waters, Midwest Forage Council and Sustainable Farmers Association of Minnesota, to name a few.

Vance continues his conservation activities in retirement on the family farm with his wife, Bonnie. He has applied his grazing education to his 230-acre farming operation. They have been doing rotational grazing on their dairy farm for the last 25 years. During the last seven years, their son Olaf has taken over the management of the farm and has continued to expand and improve the grazing operation. 

Water quality

The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee annually selects one landowner that goes above and beyond in regards to preserving the quality of our surface and groundwater resources.  This year’s award goes to Ed and Maggie Lund.

Ed and Maggie are lifelong residents of the area and purchased their farm in 1974.  Their Lematr Aronia Farm is located along County S in Haney Township.  It borders the Kickapoo River, and Halls Branch Creek runs throughout the property.  The Lunds currently grow aronia berries on the property. Aronia berries have the highest concentration of antioxidants present in any fruit and are full of health benefits. 

Ed and Maggie have experienced the impact of water runoff from the ridges and along areas of the streambed.

“Clean water and healthy soil is vital to life and it is why we chose to become organic farmers,” Lund said.  “While we are only caretakers for a minute spot on this earth, we are doing what we can to make it better.”

In 2017 with the help of NRCS and the Land Conservation Department, a streambank improvement project was completed.  The streambanks were repaired and trees and brush were cleared along the area.  They are extremely proud of the effect this has made along the streambed.  It has stopped the erosion of the cropland, and created better habitat for fish and other aquatic life.

Wildlife conservation

With the recent retirement of the DNR Wildlife Biologist for Crawford and Vernon Counties, Dave Matheys, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee decided to recognize his efforts.

The landscape of the Driftless Area is what drew Dave here in the 1980s for employment with the DNR.  Dave stated that the rolling hills of Crawford and Vernon County create very diverse habitat, which leads to a variety of different wildlife.

“Of course, it has been the game species that has taken up the majority of Dave’s time here in the last 30 years,” Troester said.   “Deer hunting is the area’s biggest outdoor recreation activity, and our deer herd has grown greatly in the time that Dave was our biologist.  As have turkey numbers, because turkey reintroduction into Wisconsin began just prior to his appointment to this area.”

Troester shared that a couple notable activities Dave was involved in regarding deer hunting has been the CWD sampling and monitoring in the county since the early 2000s.  Sadly, the county’s first CWD-positive result occurred in 2015.

“As our DNR Wildlife Biologist, Dave was often our residents’ first contact in regards to wildlife concerns or issues,” Troester said.  “Dave was always willing to listen and provide educated answers to questions.  His leadership has been a great asset to our residents and landowners in regards to wildlife management.”

Conservation forestry

The Conservation Forestry Award is presented to landowners that manage their woodlands for reasons other than simply maximizing their profits off of the land.  A great example of this is the work done by Gerald and Jacqueline Guarnaccio.

Family first introduced the Guarnaccios to the beauty of southwest Wisconsin in the early 1970s. Knowing they wanted to retire here, they spent five years actively searching, and in 1997, found the perfect Seneca Township property at the end of Farrington Road. The property is comprised of 270 acres of mostly wooded land.

“For the next 20 years, Gerry and Jackie would be weekend warriors, travelling from their home across the state,” Troester said.  “There were trails to be built, woods to be cared for, and fish and game to be chased.” 

Troester explained that one of the first things the Guarnaccios did was to enroll the property into the DNR’s Managed Forest Law program.  This ensured that the woodlands would be properly managed for both productive timber and for wildlife habitat improvement. 

“To date, the Guarnaccios have done numerous timber stand improvement projects and timber harvests.  They did their first hardwood timber harvest back in 1997,” Troester said. “This winter they will be doing another select harvest covering 150 acres and another pine thinning in the 30 acres of CRP.” 

Gerry and Jackie feel it is their responsibility to be stewards of the land and all it encompasses. 

“We enjoy watching the flora and fauna that each season presents,” Guarnaccio said.  “Learning the history of the area, the interpretation of the rivers, streams, and rock outcroppings are a great interest to us.”

Conservation education

Crawford County’s 2018 Conservation Educator Award goes to the Bluff Country Long Spurs Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Bob Ziehl, Matt Davis, Mike Skaite, Chad Gruber, and Mike Hazen were on hand to accept the award.

Founded in 1988, the Bluff Country Long Spurs have been working hard in Crawford County to promote turkey hunting, provide opportunities for new turkey hunters, and show appreciation to the area’s partnering landowners.

“Hunters are often referred to as the first conservationists, and it is important to recognize the role they play in managing our natural resources,” Troester said.  “However, with hunter numbers on the decline, groups such as local sportsmens’ clubs and learn-to-hunt programs are essential in recruiting and retaining ethical hunters.”

Since 1988, the group has held an annual Hunting Heritage Banquet to help raise funding to help support the chapter’s programs and provide scholarship opportunities. They also sponsor a Landowner Appreciation Day, where landowners receive a free meal as a token of appreciation for allowing sportsmen on their properties.

Over the last 25 years, they have offered a ‘Jakes Day’ experience to youth between the ages of 10 and 18.  The day includes .22 shooting, archery, trapshooting, and a meal to feed the group of around 30 youth.

Another fine example of the services they provide for our area is the Learn-to-Hunt Program that they offer. Over the last 19 years, the chapter has provided a hunting experience to more than 230 first-time turkey hunters.

 “We teach our hunters to respect the land, the landowner, and the wildlife,” Bob Ziehl said.  “It’s our intent and hope that everything we teach today’s youth will get passed on to future generations.”

Farm family of the year

To be selected as the Farm Family of the Year requires having balance between having a successful operation and putting forth extra effort to protect the environment.  This year’s winner is Payne Rock Acres, owned and operated by James and Darlene Payne, and their son Dustin.

James and Darlene acquired their 80-acre farm off of Wall Ridge in the Town of Eastman back in 1982.  At the time, they had just 15 cows.  In 1985, they remodeled the barn and increased the herd to 22 cows.  Over the next couple of years, they improved efficiency on the farm by constructing a new manure storage pit and adding an upright silo. Their son Dustin took over operations of the farm in 2007.

“Several years ago, they laid a silage pad to help with the feed waste and lessen the runoff and erosion,” Troester said.  “It was in 2012 when Payne Rock Acres really became more involved with the NRCS programs.  Since that time, they have implemented a variety of conservation programs.”

The Paynes made the conversion to no-till to help prevent erosion, and began using cover crops to lessen erosion and nutrient loss.  Dustin is also following a nutrient management plan to help with pinpointing where nutrients are needed to ensure optimal crop production and to minimize excess nutrients potentially polluting our ponds, rivers, and streams. 

Now that the herd is up to 50 cows and they are farming around 170 acres, the Paynes have worked with NRCS to construct a new manure storage pit. The new pit allows them to hold and store nutrients until needed and when weather conditions are favorable for spreading. 

“We are farmers, and we are stewards of the land,” Dustin Payne said. “Our wildlife, water, soils, and communities all depend on our responsible farming practices to ensure the safety of our food supply and health of our environment for future generations.”