The big bluestem grass, nearly 12 feet tall, reaches for the sky. Purple blazing stars bloom in fields brighter than any constellation. Prairie parsley dances in the soft breeze and cornflowers color the ground gold.
Henslow’s Sparrows sing as they bop along the ground looking for berries or beetles to feast on, and monarch butterflies, like living origami, perch precariously on milkweed before lifting off, aloft on the breeze south. There are red-headed woodpeckers making a racket in the nearby woods, and there are voles making holes beneath the shrubbery while hawks soar during the day and bats await their turn at night.
This vision of the Baraboo area, though still years from being fully realized, is becoming more of a reality in part due to the efforts of the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Pines family, who purchased property not far from Leopold’s famous shack and have owned thousands of acres nearby.
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This weekend the foundation and the family are holding a ceremony to formalize their longstanding partnership to conserve 4,000 acres — 600 belonging to the foundation and 3,400 owned by the Pines — now known as the Leopold-Pines Conservation Area .
“This is our way to acknowledge the Pines family for their dedication to shared conservation,” foundation executive director Buddy Huffaker said. “This weekend, we codify our collaboration and honor this commitment to conservation.”
The private dedication corresponds with the foundation’s hosting of the 14th annual Midwest chapter meeting of the Society for Ecological Restoration, taking place Friday through Sunday.
The society says the goal of the gathering, dubbed “For the Love of Restoration: History and Adaptation,” is to reflect upon the joy of restoration, celebrate the long tradition of ecological restoration in the Midwest, and learn how new challenges are stimulating novel changes within the field. The meeting schedule shows keynote speeches, plenary sessions, field tours, workshops, presentations, symposia and more, including the celebration of the newly codified Leopold-Pines Conservation Area.
“When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land; when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation.” So wrote Aldo Leopold in his 1939 essay, “The Farmer as a Conservationist.”
The farmer working the land next to the Leopold property was Phill Pines, of Riverside Farms. His family still owns many acres in the area and has collaborated with the foundation to not only conserve the area’s natural wonder, but to wonder about what other ways they might be able to work together to restore local critical habitats.
Hence the family’s collaboration with the foundation, which has already led to some successes.
“We’re much more coordinated now in our approach,” Huffaker said. “We can apply for larger grants giving us greater opportunities. The work is paying off.”
As such, grassland birds are returning and endangered pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, are finding a home.
Plans for this spring are to plant 170 acres of new prairie. It will take approximately five years before it resembles something like the prairies that existed before large-scale agriculture. In the first years, Huffaker said, it will look much like a weed patch. By year three, flowers should start emerging. Soon after, the prairie will showcase the full complement of what a prairie is. He’s eager to see when the birds and other fauna will begin using it.
It will be, he imagines, a beautiful thing with the grasses waving their thanks — not only for nature’s bounty, but to the men and women of the area dedicated to making it bountiful.