SHARING THE LAND, A WIN-WIN STORY

From a landowner in Southwest Wisconsin

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In 1996 I purchased seventy-five acres of mixed hardwoods and wetlands that had a small trout stream running through it. The land is in the Managed Forest Law program and the written management plan provided a good start for a new landowner wondering how best to manage their land. One thing a new landowner quickly learns is that managing a property takes time, energy, and money.

There always are friends and acquaintances who would love to have a place to hunt. Perhaps they could be a source of help on projects? I invited guests and managed access but did not ask for help. A few offered to help with projects to show their appreciation and others just said thanks when they dragged a deer or turkey out. 

Several years ago, a conservationist friend asked if I would allow her boyfriend to bow hunt deer on my property. I was initially hesitant but decided to meet him, show him the property, explain my rules, and grant him hunting access.

Mike was interested in bow hunting, was very courteous and asked about boundaries and what other rules I had. That was a great start. What was even better was he asked what he could do to return the favor. The next day he showed up with his tools and we fixed fence. We got better acquainted as we worked together, and Mike began hunting the land. 

The relationship grew. I met a friend of Mike’s and they happily traded work on projects for access to the land. Planning and implementation of projects was cooperative and collaborative. They learned the property and how the animals used it. The land rewarded their efforts with several hunting successes. 

During one of their hunts, I got a phone call. Mike had mortally wounded a deer, but it crossed on to a neighbor’s land. They asked for the neighbor’s phone number, which I passed on, they got permission and tracked and retrieved the deer. That process showed respect for me, the neighbor, and the deer.

Over the years I have learned the importance of building good relationships with neighbors. It is especially important for absentee owners. When the neighbor’s cow gets out you help them retrieve it. When they say your fence needs work you get it fixed and they will do the same. In the end, keeping good relationships with your neighbors is especially important. 

Here is another recent example of the benefits of being a good neighbor and having great cooperators. We had a timber harvest and clear cut twelve acres of land. While we were planning to repair trails and improve access, Mike contacted the neighbor, who he had become friendly with. The neighbor pitched in lending his skid steer to the project. The trails were completed and access to both properties was improved. 

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The story continues through several years. Now, when I visit the land there is often a surprise. It may be the garage is cleaned out, new equipment showed up, trails are mowed, or a small food plot was planted. At the beginning I asked them to call and check in before they came out. The relationship has evolved to a point where I do not ask them to call each time, but am glad when they do, because it gives me an excuse to sneak out and have a beer with them. 

It is also rewarding is to see how the guys are gaining knowledge and learning how to manage the land. When a DNR forester came out to go over the management plan, they joined us. They asked questions, added their observations, and suggested projects. They evolved from guys looking for a place to hunt into conservation minded cooperators. 

One project we completed was adding to the biodiversity of the property by planting one hundred Juneberry and Hazelnut shrubs. That work went well, and the practice is in the next phases. Another learning experience - now while watching the newly planted Juneberry, hazelnut and the young oaks in the clear cut poking their heads up – is knowing the importance of keeping a balanced deer herd so the seedlings are not browsed before they grow up.

Our next project is to do a smaller project – controlling three acres of honeysuckle. I applied for a grant and told them if they do the work, I will pass on the grant money on to them. Their response: “We would put it into a fund to get other practices implemented.”  

I can honestly say this was WIN-WIN-WIN. These fellas love the outdoors, hunting, planting food plots and doing timber stand improvement. From my end I very much enjoy seeing what they’re doing, getting to know them and their families and the land and the life on it has benefited.