Bonnie Wideman, rural Soldiers Grove, has donated a conservation easement on her 160-acre Crawford County farm.
The action adds to the lands protected by conservation easements administered by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy in the Kickapoo River Valley, a priority area for the La Crosse-based land trust.
Wideman said she wanted to protect the improvements that she has made on the farm such as her rotational grazing program. She organically raises sheep and beef cattle on the rolling farmland fringed by oak woodlands.
Abbie Church, MVC conservation specialist, noted the importance of preserving Wisconsin’s farmland. Wisconsin is one of the leading states in farmland lost to development.
The conservationist explained that in addition to the grazing land, the Wideman property has oak savanna species making this globally imperiled habitat “highly restorable.” One burr oak on the property was cored and is estimated to be at least 170 years old.
Wideman is the Executive Director of the Midwest Organic Services Association in Viroqua, which provides organic certification to farms and handlers in 20 states. She is planning to retire and spend full time at her farming operation after eight years with the organization.
“Farmers know in their hearts that they have resources worth protecting, but those resources are not always valued in society,” Wideman said. She added that the conservation easement is a way for landowners to voluntarily provide that protection.
“It is an incredible gift to one’s children and grandchildren,” Wideman said. “Even if my children are not interested in continuing the farming tradition here, even if they sell it, the gift will go on as it can continue to be working farmland, but also the wildlife habitat and native features of the land will continue to be enjoyed by future owners.”
Wideman feels the conservation easement gives her children a clear picture of the conservation values of the property that need to be preserved. She has three adult children, all of whom were raised on the farm – two live in Seattle and one lives in Madison.
Church said that the easement, a voluntary agreement between MVC and Wideman, couldn’t include the word “organic” because it would lack a legal definition since the legal definition keeps changing. However, she added, agricultural use of the property must be conducted according to modern conservation practices that prevent water pollution, groundwater contamination, depletion of soil nutrients, soil erosion, and which maintain long-term soil quality and productivity.
“I was a botany major in college,” Wideman said. “It was always difficult for me to reconcile conservation ethics with agricultural use. I tried to do so by implementing managed rotational grazing and organic certification. This (the easement) takes it one step further, by honoring these practices and keeping the site intact, in perpetuity.”
The addition of the 160-acre easement brings to more than 14,000 the number of acres protected by the MVC in its nine-county area of Western Wisconsin with 2,777 of the total in the Kickapoo River Priority Area. Land trusts have protected a total of 47 million acres nationally, an area more than twice the size of all the national parks in the contiguous United States.
Mississippi Valley Conservancy has permanently conserved more than 14,000 acres, and has more than 1,500 members and hundreds of volunteers.
For more information about MVC’s conservation work and opportunities to get involved, visit www.mississippivalleyconservancy.org; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 608-784-3606.