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Crawford County Land Conservation Committee gives annual awards
CR Cons Awards Group color
The 2017 Crawford County Conservation Award winners, awarded by the county Land Con-servation Committee are, left to right, front, Randy Christensen, Cynthia Olmstead, Ann Grunwald, and Leigh Carlson; back, Doug Konichek, Susie Konichek, Kirby Kohler, Mark Grunwald and Forrest Carlson. Their awards were presented at the Crawford County Fair in Gays Mills.

CRAWFORD COUNTY - In addition to the regular annual awards given each year by the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee, this year a local citizen was one of five honored for contributions to conservation in the state by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

County conservation awards were given in the categories of Farm Family of the Year, Wildlife Conservation, Water Quality, Friend of Conservation, Conservation Educator, Conservation Forestry.

Farm Family of 2017

This year’s winner of the Farm Family of the Year award is Lazy Acres, the Doug and Susie Konichek family.

Doug and Susie currently operate a 160-acre farm, between Eastman and Steuben. The farm was originally Susie’s father’s, and has been in their family for 75 years. Doug and Susie have now been managing the farm for 23 years.

The dairy farm, situated along Duha Ridge Road, contains bottom fields and ridge-top fields, separated by steep, wooded hillsides.  It had been a lifelong dream of Susie to start milking cows.  With the help of the Great River Graziers and the NRCS, they were able to make that dream come true. 

The Konicheks currently milk 48 Jersey/New Zealand Holsteins crosses, and have 22 heifers and 22 calves at this time.  They have a Swing-8 milking parlor retrofitted into the round barn that Susie’s father built from lumber cut from trees on the farm.

One of the biggest challenges the Konicheks face is when the creek in their bottom pastures floods, which happens more frequently lately, and they have to repair fencing.

There have been many improvements on the farm in recent years.  They have worked with NRCS to install heavy use access roads to provide better access to their top fields. They have constructed three different stream crossings, so that the cows have accessibility to more pasture on the bottoms. Cattle lanes were constructed using Geotextile fabric, four inches of breaker rock, and two inches of fine rock for cow comfort.  Cattle lanes are a great way to lessen compaction and reduce soil erosion.

The Konicheks use rotational grazing to control the areas of the pastures, to which the cattle have access. This practice is very beneficial to both the livestock and the land. They have also begun to experiment with Silvopasture in their woods.

 “Every day is a new day with new challenges.  Thankfully, with the help of our children Ryan, Eric, and Jena, we have been able to keep our farm moving forward,” Susie said.

Wildlife Conservation

The Wildlife Conservation Award was presented to Forrest and Leigh Carlson. The award recognize landowners that take active roles in managing their properties in a way that greatly benefits all wildlife

Forrest and Leigh moved to their Freeman Township property from Alaska in 2008 so they would be closer to family. They decided they wanted to begin improvements on the property to attract and observe the wildlife.

In 2010, they began working with Southwest Badger RC&D staff to develop a Forest Management Plan with the goal of improving the woods for wildlife habitat.   After attending a woodland owner’s workshop in 2012, the Carlsons finally felt comfortable enough to proceed with a timber harvest. 

Southwest Badger RC&D assisted them with marking the trees for harvesting.  Andrew Smiley and his crew conducted an excellent timber harvest for them, utilizing the ash trees before Emerald Ash Borer moved in. They feel the harvest improved the health of their woods by creating openings for oak regeneration. 

Since the harvest, Leigh and Forrest have been working on timber stand improvement projects, building brush piles, which they have found to be a favorite hiding spot for young pheasants, and doing additional clearings to promote oak regeneration. And in the ongoing battle to control invasive species, they’ve worked on honeysuckle, buckthorn, autumn olive, and multiflora rose in the understory, while cutting out tree species such as Siberian elm, white mulberry, and black locust.

To increase the amount of prairie habitat they had, they began converting crop ground to native prairie, and in 2016, with funding from NRCS’ EQIP Monarch Butterfly Initiative, they planted three more acres with a seed mix tailored to benefit the monarch.

Water Quality Award

This year’s Water Quality Award goes to Cynthia Olmstead, Project Director for the Kickapoo Grazing Initiative (KGI).

Cynthia began her career in natural resources after receiving a Forest Resources Management undergraduate and graduate degrees, and a PhD where she focused her research on landowner incentive programs and other technical assistance options. 

In 1998, Cynthia became the first Executive Director at Mississippi Valley Conservancy, and was a founding member of Save Copper Creek, a group whose purpose was to protect the water quality and quantity of the stream.  She also helped form the public-private partnership of the Kickapoo Grazing Initiative in 2012.

The Kickapoo Grazing Initiative is a public/private partnership to promote rotational grazing of grass-fed beef.

One of KGI’s best resources, especially for beginning farmers, is their work with Vance Haugen, Crawford UW-Extension Agent, and the facilitator of the Great River Graziers. This group has decades of experience as rotational graziers.  Their pasture walks are great settings for good dialogue on the challenges and successes of rotational grazing.

“My work, and the partnerships I’ve built through KGI, helps to conserve land and water resources in the Driftless Area, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Olmstead said.

Friend of Conservation

The 2017 Friend of Conservation Award goes to Randy Christensen from Cabela’s of Prairie du Chien.  Randy has been a great advocate for natural resources and youth outreach and has been a very important asset to Crawford County, as both an individual and a representative of Cabela’s.

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, Randy’s appreciation of the outdoors stemmed from his father, who taught Randy to appreciate the opportunities our natural resources can provide. This appreciation of the outdoors led Randy down a conservation-based career path.

He moved to Prairie du Chien in 2001, and his position with Cabela’s allows him to work with many different conservation groups, providing outreach and working with youth to promote conservation. 

Randy is present at almost every type of youth natural resources outreach event in the area, usually with dozens of fishing poles, tackle boxes, and other gear from Cabela’s to give away to the kids to help them stay connected to the outdoors. 

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 Mark and Ann Grunwald.

Mark and Ann were both family physicians in the city of Prairie du Chien for 30 years, where they raised three children.

The Grunwalds have embarked on an oak savanna restoration project. They received a WHIP grant from NRCS to begin work in the late 90s, cutting out cedars and understory brush.  Over the next decade they began cutting out other undesirable trees, such as box elder, old apple trees, elms, etc., to make more room for the hickory and white oak and burr oak to thrive.  

The two began burning their prairie plantings and woods in 2008, but it wasn’t until oak wilt killed numerous red oaks around one of their native bluff prairies that they really connected the importance of light hitting the ground. 

When the forest canopy was opened up, there was a huge flush of prairie and savanna species in those areas.  Since that time, they have continued to selectively cut their forest, removing less desirable species, and even thinning out some of the oak to let more light into the savanna.

Recently the couple received a USDA NRCS Monarch Initiative Grant to inter-seed savanna and prairie species into the oak savanna areas.

Conservation Educator

The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee’s goal of maintaining a conservation-minded atmosphere in Crawford County is no easy task.  With issues such as conversion to all row-crops, non-resident land ownership, and invasive species threatening to change the landscape, it is important that positive conservation messages are provided to the county’s youth.

This year’s Conservation Educator Award goes to Kirby Kohler, Science Teacher at Bluff View Middle School in Prairie du Chien.

Kirby graduated from UW-Stevens Point with a BS in Biology, and a MS in Fisheries and Natural Resources Management.  He began his teaching career by teaching Environmental Science at Rhinelander High School, where he developed a curriculum based on Aldo Leopold’s ‘A Sand County Almanac.’

Kirby’s efforts in Rhinelander were rewarded when he was named the Wisconsin Conservation Educator of the Year Award in 2010.

The following year, Kirby and his family moved to Crawford County when he accepted a teaching position with Prairie du Chien.  He was very excited to move to the Driftless Area. Back when he was still in high school, Kirby became fascinated with the Driftless landscape and outdoor opportunities when he went on a three-day turkey hunting, trout fishing, and morel picking excursion in southeast Minnesota. 

Since arriving in the area, Kirby has continued his conservation-based curriculum with hundreds of Prairie du Chien students

One of Kirby’s favorite quotes comes from Aldo Leopold, “The greatest challenge for mankind is to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”

DNR Secretary’s Award

Jay Greene, a local businessman and long-time supporter of conservation issues in Western Wisconsin, is one of five Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 2017 Secretary's Director Award recipient.

"Jay Greene has a strong sense of community service and pride and serves as sort of a Seneca community ambassador," said DNR Western Wisconsin Secretary's Director Dan Baumann.

Dan Baumann, who came in person to give Greene his award, is the regional water leader, working out of Eau Claire, as secretary’s director for the 19 counties of west central Wisconsin.

Greene was nominated for the award by Ellen Gudrum and Cody Adams of the DNR. They played a little trick on him when it came time to tell him he’d won.

Gudrum and Adams arranged to meet Greene at his store in Seneca. When Greene questioned Adams about what was going on, Adams, a warden, told him jokingly, “Well Jay, we can deal with this here or we can go to Prairie.” In all seriousness, though, the two spoke glowingly of the partnership they’ve had with Greene and his staff over the years.

Baumann said that Greene works in partnership with DNR wardens and wildlife biologists regarding such topics as hunter success, local hunting conditions, registration procedures and unusual or novel wildlife sightings.