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Waupaca Works to Preserve Farms & Forests

The wind howled through the barn boards at the Bob and Penny Leder farm, but it couldn’t upstage the celebration of farmland preservation held there June. 9.

The Leders of Bear Creek were among three families who donated conservation easements as part of Waupaca County’s Farm and Forest Preservation Program, which serves as a model of citizen engagement and wise land use planning.

More than 50 people gathered in the lush rural countryside to learn about the program and to salute those who made it happen. The Leders operate a sheep farm called Bear Creek Sheep Station, and Bob also works as a large-animal veterinarian.

Their 74-acre easement protects the farm from development and serves as a linchpin for future farmland protection efforts in the area. “We’ve been here for 25 years,” said Bob Leder. “An amazing number of homes have popped up in the middle of farm fields, quite to my chagrin.”

Penny Leder was credited with helping Waupaca County and the state embrace a new farmland preservation strategy, said Mike Koles, Waupaca County Extension community resource development agent. She was active in county efforts to develop a comprehensive plan that included farm and forest land protection. She also helped generate interest in and raise money for tours that took Wisconsin residents to the eastern U.S. to learn about farmland preservation programs there.

“A handful of people were instrumental in making this happen. Penny is one,” said Koles.

“It’s the landowners who supported this. Without that support, we wouldn’t be here right now in this program,” said Penny Leder.

Other easement donors in the Waupaca County program include Jim and Mary Hlaban, who donated an easement on 68 acres of forested land in nearby Ogdensburg. The land is also enrolled in Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law, which provides tax breaks for landowners who agree to follow sustainable forest management plans. “We got introduced to the concept through the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust,” Jim Hlaban said.

Carl Lantz donated a 50-acre easement on his farm and forest land near the village of Scandinavia. Lantz was a charter member of American Farmland Trust, so he was familiar with farmland preservation programs. “I was surprised when it developed here, but I hope it can continue,” he said.

Waupaca County’s program resulted from more than 10 years of work and, as Koles said, “more than 44,000 points of public contact.”

The county began developing its comprehensive plan in 2003. Citizen input drove the process as scores of local, regional and county meetings shaped the plan. It was completed in 2007, and an accompanying ordinance was adopted in 2009.

One component of the plan focuses on conservation easements to preserve farm and forest land. Grants from profits of Farm Technology Days in the county several years ago and from American Transmission Company help to fund the easement program.

Now, county officials hope that the state’s new Working Lands Initiative will provide other opportunities. Several county residents and sponsoring agencies applied for Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement funding in the state’s initial request for applications this year.

“Very few counties are blessed with farmland, forestland and water resources as we are,” said Extension Agriculture Agent Greg Blonde. “Protection of our farm and forest lands not only helps protect the character of the county, but our economic foundation, as well.”

For more information on Waupaca County’s farmland protection efforts, contact Blonde at greg.blonde[at]ces.uwex.edu or Koles at michael.koles[at]ces.uwex.edu