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Conservation efforts recognized at Crawford County Fair
By Land Conservation Committee
2022 Conservation Award Winners - group picture
CONSERVATION AWARD winners for 2022, honored at the Crawford County Fair, include, from left: Roger Dahlberg, James Puchter, Gillian Pomplun, Vance Haugen, Wade Dull, Chris and Eric Hammell, and Shelley Robers and Dewey Moore.

CRAWFORD COUNTY - The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee held their ‘Conservation Awards’ ceremony on Thursday, at the Crawford County Fair. Six conservation awards were given to recognize achievements in the areas of education, forestry, writing, wildlife, legacy and Conservation Farm Family of the Year.

Each person or family recognized received an Aldo Leopold Bench, with the message of their choice inscribed on it, and an award certificate.

Farm Family

The Hammell Brothers were recognized as the Crawford County Conservation Farm Family of the year. Hammell Brothers consists of Chris, his wife Lacy, and sons Brady and Blake, and Eric, his wife Carolyn, and daughter Carlee.

“To receive this award requires having a successful operation while putting forth extra effort into conserving our land and water,” Conservation Director Dave Troester said. “This year’s winner not only does this on their own farms, but also assists other area farmers to do the same thing.” 

David and Wilma Hammell moved to their Crawford County dairy farm in 1981.  It was there that the Hammells raised their sons Chris and Eric, who spent countless hours helping their parents with chores and learning the principles of agriculture.  

In 2004 Chris and Eric rented some acres of their own for cash crops. Soon after, they started no-tilling with soybeans in the rotation. They shared equipment with their parents. This allowed them to break into their own farming operation while both still working full-time jobs.

“In 2009, Eric and Chris started Hammell Bros. LLC.  They diversified and bought some beef cattle, which required adding hay into the rotation,” Troester said.  “They quickly noticed the reduced erosion that hay strips brought with it.”

 The Hammell Brothers were one of the first Crawford County farms to sign up for the county’s aerial cover crop project.  

“This type of cover crop seeding was brand new to this area, but Eric and Chris were willing to take a risk to gain the benefits that cover crops bring,” Troester said.  “About this same time, they signed up for the NRCS’ Conservation Stewardship Program. With their existing no-till operation, they were able to implement winter wheat and the use of nitrogen stabilizers and plant pollinator habitat.”  

Around 2012, both brothers stopped working off-farm, as they added more rented land and expanded their custom farming services.  

Finally, in 2018, David and Wilma gave Chris and Eric the opportunity to purchase the farm they grew up on.  They then expanded the beef cow herd, with more hay again being added to the rotation.  

“They then started looking at erosion control structures,” Troester said. “To date, they have partnered with NRCS and Crawford County Land Conservation to construct four grade stabilization structures, with another one planned for later this year.

“Speaking of grade stabilizations, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Hammell Brothers work as contractors on many Crawford County landowners’ conservation projects.  Way back in 2007, they put in a grade stabilization structure for another area farmer.  

“That first project was overseen by Adam Achenbach from the county and Dennis Pozega from the NRCS,” Troester said.  “Since then, they have constructed at least one of these structures every single year for a Crawford or Grant County producer.”  

They have done up to 12 in one season, which is very impressive. They also have constructed rock-lined waterways, stream crossings, and streambank restoration projects.  

“They have proven to be reliable contractors, dedicated to constructing these structures as designed to ensure landowners receive a quality product,” Troester said.  “The work they have done to conserve our soil and protect our water has been beneficial to so many people.”

When Troester asked Eric what he felt was the most beneficial conservation practice, he didn’t hesitate to say that it has been no-till.

“Tillage has no place in corn or soybean rotations.  We have kept high yields with no-till, and save on our inputs by reducing diesel fuel costs and eliminating tillage equipment,” Eric Hammell responded.  “We currently operate right at 1,000 acres of corn and beans.  No-till has been our best asset.”  

Eric also highlighted the grade stabilizations and grassed waterways as great fixes for troubled areas and pointed out how wildlife also heavily utilize these areas.  Finally, the Hammell Brothers are big fans of rotational grazing.  

“If you get your pasture set-up with fencing, it will be fantastic!” Hammell said.

Wildlife conservation

The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee likes to recognize landowners that take active roles in managing their properties in a way that greatly benefits all wildlife.  A great example of this is the work done by Dewey Moore and Shelley Roberts.

Dewey was born and raised in the rural Midwest.  He could often be found exploring the wild areas around his home, stuffing snakes and rocks into his pockets.  As a young boy, Dewey earned money picking asparagus before school and spent summer days on family farms vining peas for Del Monte.  His enjoyment of agriculture and the outdoors led him into farming, and to a career as a geology professor.

Shelley was raised in the Rocky Mountains, spending outdoor time camping, backpacking, and working as a summer camp counselor.  She gained a solid appreciation of wildlife from her great-grandfather, who wrote two volumes of ‘Birds of Minnesota,’ and started the Minnesota Museum of Natural History.  The New Mexico Nature Conservancy was started in her family’s living room, with her parents also advocating to establish the Rio Grande Nature Center and Albuquerque Open Spaces.

In 1969, Dewey bought a farm in Crawford County.  Shortly after, he and a colleague brought Knox College students to the Ferryville area for 10 weeks to study farm life, wildlife, and native plants.  Dewey was heavily influenced by Aldo Leopold, and taught that land ethic to his students, hosting conservation-minded students at the farm his entire career. Dewey even received a National Science Foundation grant to study his farm’s scat.  This ‘poop collection’ is a favorite with the grandkids!

“When Dewey and Shelley first began dating, Dewey put Shelley to what they now refer to as the ‘girlfriend test’,” Troester said.  “They would spend weekends trimming black walnut trees at the Ferryville farm.  Needless to say, she passed!”

According to Troester, the conservation efforts on their property are “immense.”  The property has been enrolled in the Managed Forest Land program since 1970.  In 2006, they enrolled some land into the Conservation Reserve Program.  This entailed planting 1,200 hazelnut, 1,200 ninebark, and 1,200 wild plums for wildlife food on five acres, and planting another 30 acres with native grasses and wildflowers. 

“The USDA’s EQIP program and Crawford County’s cost-sharing initiatives helped them construct six grade-stabilization structures, which protect ridge cropland, and create wildlife water holes,” Troester said. 

They have restored some pasture ground for rotational grazing. Then after learning of the importance that oak trees play in hosting insects for migrating birds, they have specifically worked on pushing back brush to expose oaks along forest edges.  Also in these areas, they have been planting prairie grass and radish seed to serve as erosion control and wildlife food.  

These days, Dewey and Shelley spend a lot of time tending the prairie and their pollinator garden, as well as removing invasives from their woods and shrub acreage.

“An extremely important event for the farm occurred back in 2009. It was at that time that Dewey and Shelley put their land into a conservation easement through the Mississippi Valley Conservancy,” Troester said.  “This easement will ensure that the property remains preserved and protected forever. Their conservation easement is their gift to the future.  Shelley told me that Mississippi Valley Conservancy provides invaluable stewardship guidance, and helps them to inventory wildlife on the property.”

Also of note is their volunteer work assisting Crawford Stewardship Project with its Karst Study, as well as wetland restoration projects with the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation.  Dewey and Shelley are members of numerous other groups:  Valley Stewardship Project, The Nature Conservancy, New Mexico Nature Conservancy, New Mexico WILD, Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center, the Quivira Coalition, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, World Wildlife Fund, and the Sierra Club.

“As you can tell, Dewey and Shelley are very committed to protecting our natural resources,” Troester said.  “Shelley told me that it was Dewey’s worldview that convinced her to marry him and share the pleasures and responsibilities of country life. Clearly, their joint passion for conservation greatly benefits the wildlife in the area.”

Conservation educator

This year’s Conservation Educator Award goes to the Great River Graziers (GRG). The group was started in 1993 when about 30 local farmers met at the Utica Lutheran Church to organize a group that would focus on promoting grazing as a way to keep farmers on the land and profitable.

“The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee’s goal of maintaining a conservation-minded atmosphere in Crawford County is no easy task,” Troester said.  “With issues such as conversion to all row-crops, non-resident land ownership, and invasive species threatening to change our landscape, it is critical that positive conservation messages are provided to our residents through outreach and education.” 

According to Troester, Doug Spany suggested the name ‘Great River Graziers,' and it has been a fitting one. From that early start of primarily Crawford County farmers, the GRG group has expanded its educational efforts to farms and farmers in Minnesota, Iowa and across Wisconsin.  

“There is no membership list, there are no dues or officers, simply, farmers helping farmers,” Troester said.

The group averages 12 pasture walks per year, with an average attendance of 20 people. The members of the GRG have promoted managed intensive grazing for all species of livestock. In the early years, dairy grazing was the predominant type. Fast forward 25 years and now they see a 60 percent mix of beef, 30 percent dairy and 10 percent sheep/goat/pig/chicken pasture walks.

UW Extension supported and facilitated the group for many years, and has been a great collaborator. Several other organizations have also done a great deal in assisting the organization such as the Kickapoo Grazing Initiative, Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, NRCS and the Land Conservation Department.

“Several projects that the group has sponsored over the years has been, milking parlor raisings, heifer exchange, a breeding bull cooperative, and a kura clover demonstration,” Troester said. “Another achievement was the purchase of a no till drill that, according to the manufacturer, could plant anything from alfalfa to acorns, and it has. Several thousand acres have been seeded because of that piece of equipment.”

Their events and outreach have surely created a ripple effect with beginning farmers.  The GRG has been a huge asset in that regard.  

“It is invaluable to hear the discussions that farmers have with other farmers on topics such as manure, animal nutrition, pasture quality, farm layout, and even veterinary issues,” pasture walk participant Amy Fenn said.  “Through the pasture walks, I have been able to stand in a circle with three generations of lifelong farmers that are always problem-solving, not in theory but in practice, and once in a while I’ll add my book-learned two-cents too.”  

Amy was a beginning farmer back in 2015 and truly credits the Great River Graziers for helping her establish her operation and get it up and running.


“The basic principle of the GRG is positive folk, working together to help one another, not compete.” Troester said.  “As the old guard moves on, the sons and daughters, and the grandsons and granddaughters, continue the tradition of folks helping folks.”

Conservation forestry

The 2022 Conservation Forestry Award goes to the Puchter Family- James Puchter, son Tim, and family.

“To be selected as the Conservation Forestry Award winner, a landowner must place the overall protection of their land’s natural resources ahead of simply maximizing the profits that the property could produce,” Troester said. “The winner this year, does exactly that.” 

The Puchters purchased their first woodland property back in 1968, when James was just 16 years old.  This northern Wisconsin property would kindle a passion for forestry that would lead to a lifetime of responsible land management.  Jim became very interested in the land, the trees, the wildlife, and the connection between it all.  He eventually started assisting a family friend who was a large landowner with surveying and forestry practices.

The Puchters purchased their Crawford County property in 1995. Their 560-acre parcel is predominantly wooded.  It is the Puchters’ belief that good working forests should not just be “set aside” until a harvest can be done.  They require maintenance and activities to reach their greatest potential.  After enrolling the property in the Wisconsin DNR’s Managed Forest Law, a forestry plan was developed to guide sustainable management.  

“Over the years, timber harvests have been conducted on approximately 160 acres,” Troester said.  “Many other projects have been implemented on the property as well.  There have been timber stand improvement projects, which has included invasive species control, crop tree releases, and salvage cuts. These efforts have greatly improved the woodland characteristics and have vastly improved the wildlife habitat on the land.  The Puchter family especially enjoys hunting, and factor the health and density of the deer herd into their forestry decisions.”

Aside from hunting, other activities that can be seen out at the property include maple syrup production, honeybees, mushroom cultivation, foraging, the erection of bat houses, and the construction of several wildlife ponds.

In addition to the MFL program, the Puchter family has utilized numerous other conservation programs to assist with their efforts.  The USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program aided with timber stand improvement projects and their Conservation Reserve Program provided opportunity to plant trees, grasslands, and even pollinator habitat.  

“When I asked Tim why his family is so determined to ensure the sustainability of their property, he mentioned how they intend to keep this large, un-fragmented woodland property in their family,” Troester said.  “He acknowledged that they realize that most of the benefit from their efforts of today, will not be seen by them in their lifetime. But rather, the payoff from their dedication and hard work will improve the property for future generations.”

Conservation legacy

“Every so often, the Land Conservation Committee recognizes an individual who has made a lasting impression on the state of conservation in Crawford County,” Troester said.  “This year’s Conservation Legacy Award goes to Wade Dull.”

Wade was born and raised on the family dairy farm near Soldiers Grove. His father was a Soil Conservationist for Vernon County for 30 years.  Wade grew up farming with his father, and learned to appreciate the interconnection between farming and conservation.  

As his appreciation for farming and conservation grew, he knew his path would lead him down those lines. Wade attended Southwest Technical College and studied Ag Mechanics.  

“On the farm, they practiced conservation techniques such as contour strip cropping, crop rotations, grassed waterways, water erosion control ponds and stilling basins,” Troester said.  “Wade and his father followed managed timber practices, and also planted trees as windbreaks to reduce erosion.  Wade even dabbled in rotational grazing as a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to raise livestock.”

Troester said that Wade’s father, Harold, had taught Wade the ins-and-outs of agriculture, and how it was necessary to utilize conservation to preserve the farm and protect the waters.  He also instilled in his son a sense of civic duty.  So when Harold retired from the Crawford County Board of Supervisors in 2006, Wade would go on to fill that vacancy where he served for 16 years.  

Along with his appointments to the Audit Committee, Highway Committee, Human Services Committee, Public Health Committee, and the Ag and Extension Committee and Fair Board, Wade also served on the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee (LCC) from 2008- 2022.  

“His agricultural background, and dedication to protecting our natural resources. was a perfect combination to prepare him for serving on the LCC,” Troester said. “Over the years that Wade served on the committee, they provided guidance and made decisions on numerous important issues facing Crawford County.  A couple of highlights include livestock siting, frac sand mining, the Driftless Area Water Study, the implementation of the septic system maintenance program, and the aerial cover crop project.”  

Troester said that while working with Wade over the last decade, he was always impressed by his poise and professionalism, and his ability to think about a certain topic from all angles.  

“Despite his busy schedule, Wade could always be counted on to assist this department at the Youth Conservation Day and also the Clean Sweep Event, where he would help direct traffic and greet participants with a friendly face,” Troester said.

Troester said that when he asked Wade about his conservation philosophy, Wade told him:

“Conservation of our natural resources means a better life for my children and grandchildren.  We are all responsible for our air, water, and land and I feel that I have helped keep our soil in Crawford County instead of heading down the Mississippi River,” Dull said. “I was proud to serve on the Land Conservation Committee, and the on the Fair Board, and am proud that my father’s legacy will live on with my son.” 

Conservation writing

“When residents want to know what is happening in county government, it is very important for them to have a local news source that relays important information in a timely and thorough way.  Likewise, when the Crawford County Land Conservation wants to get the word out on important natural resource updates and events, they need an outlet to accurately relay those stories in a way that captures residents’ attention,” Troester said.  “Gillian Pomplun, reporter for the Crawford County Independent, does all of that and more, and that is why she is our 2022 Conservation Writer Award winner.”

Gillian was born in LaCrosse, and attending elementary school in Neenah/Menasha, where her father worked until retirement with the Kimberly Clark Corporation. After her mother remarried, she attended middle school, high school, and college in Madison.  

Gillian operated an organic market gardening business with  a farming partner, and sold bedding plants and vegetables at the Madison Farmers Market in the late 1980s, Gillian realized that to pursue her dream of being an organic farmer she was going to need a farm. To get the farm, she was going to need money. So, Gillian got her first serious job working for North Farm Cooperative, a natural and organic cooperative distributor in Madison, where she worked for 13 years.

Upon the dissolution of the cooperative in 2002, Gillian made the decision to pursue another dream, which was to live and raise her two children in the Driftless Region. She moved to Crawford County, became employed at Organic Valley, and enrolled her children in the LaFarge School District, from which they both graduated.  

After graduating from UW-River Falls, her daughter now operates a horse farm working to preserve the bloodlines of Egyptian-Arabian horses. Her son has spent the last couple of years working as a wildland firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management and is planning to pursue a forestry degree from UW-Stevens Point.

When her children’s father passed away suddenly in 2013, it sent the family into a tailspin, and after her 25-year organic marketing career ended that same year, she decided to focus on her children, ponder her empty nest, and re-evaluate her career aspirations.  In 2015, she began her career with the newspaper, where she has now worked for the last seven years.

Gillian’s time in Madison opened her eyes to a wide variety of conservation issues.  While at college, she co-founded the UW-Madison Greens student group.  She also began to highlight natural resource issues in papers and even had one paper on the socio-economic impacts of methylmercury in Madison lakes officially published in Madison’s Isthmus newspaper, the first time her byline appeared in print.  She also joined the Yahara Area Green Action Group, advocating for protection of that watershed.  She enjoyed advocating for conservation causes.

Since beginning her career in journalism, Gillian has relished the opportunity to tell the stories of farmers who are making a difference on the landscape, highlight issues related to ground and surface water quality, promote growth in use of cover crops, share information about Driftless Region initiatives to combat climate change, and to make our communities more resilient. 

“I can’t wait to see what great stories I can tell in the future!” Gillian told Troester.

Troester said he had received several comments from individuals who work with Gillian on stories and news releases.  

Randy Jackson, Director of Grassland 2.0, spoke of her “consistently factual and inspiring stories and how she stays neutral and presents both sides of a story.”  

Monique Hassman, Vernon County Watershed Planner, told Troester how impressed and thankful she was that Gillian is dedicated enough to attend meeting after meeting and then follow up with important, independent reporting.” 

Jim Munsch, a grassfed beef producer and Crawford County Independent newspaper reader, described Gillian as “a reporter who makes local news outlets strong and relevant and that the paper and the community are lucky to have her.” 

Adam Kramer, owner of Black Sand Granary, discussed interactions he has had with Gillian at events and her coverage of some of his efforts. He calls her “professional, and very well-written,” and highlights how her writing has “an educational aspect that has resonated with so many readers, not only locally, but nationally.”  

And finally, Bob Micheel, Monroe County Conservation Director, notes that as a conservationist, “messaging our efforts and issues to the general public in a productive way can be challenging.”  Bob says that when he has a natural resources meeting, tour, or message that he needs conveyed to the public, he knows he can always rely on Gillian Pomplun.