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Leopold Landscape a 'Cultural Harvest'
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Determining what constitutes a Leopold Landscape is a tall order in less than 1,000 words - a daunting task, but one worthy of consideration.

Feel free to interject your own thoughts to these passages, because the interpretation of Aldo Leopold's legacy to conservation is as personal and unique as the land upon which each of us treads.

Aldo Leopold trained as a forester, working for the U.S. Forest Service for several years. He traveled widely which inspired his later thinking about the relationship between habitat and harvest, consumption and conservation.

In 1933, he was named professor of game management at UW Madison and began dragging his children, students or any unwitting bystander to work on a beaten down piece of property near the Wisconsin River, purchased at the height of the Great Depression.

His work at the "Shack" notwithstanding, it was Leopold's talent as an author that made him a household name among conservationists. His reflections on land ethics now inspire us to take up the challenge of carrying on his work on our own properties.

The ultimate Leopold Landscape, in my mind, is one recovered from anonymity as a discarded, untended or degraded piece of ground, but one that with hard work and imagination offers virtually unlimited potential for improvement.

Five Oaks had many flaws when purchased twenty years ago. The buildings hadn't felt the effects of a hammer and nail or a good paint job for years. The crumbling foundation at one corner of the 80-year old barn had long since abandoned its mission. Disabled machinery, rusting vehicles and assorted piles of junk lay scattered about and the nearby landfill presented the ultimate eyesore.

The cultivated hilltops had lost much of their topsoil to decades of rainstorms sweeping across the land. The same downpours flooded the bottomland, laying waste on a regular basis to freshly planted crops while washing seed, fertilizer and sprouting plants laden with herbicide into the watershed of the Pecatonica River.

But with the help of countless others, change would come.

In 1991, Gary Gruenenfelder hooked up his farm tractor to a county-owned tree planter and dragged it along the ridge while I dropped in 1,500 white pines on a three-acre parcel. After succumbing to blister rust disease, browsing deer and death by reed canary grass, there were just less than 1,000 left at last count. But, oh how pleasant the sound of the westerly wind whispering through their branches these days.

In 1993, son Darin, his friend Aaron Marty and a couple of long-forgotten accomplices planted ash and white cedars along McKenna Road. The cedars didn't do well and were replaced by white pine that now add two to three feet of growth each year.

In 1995, U.S. Fish and Wildlife engineer Art Kitchen designed a series of shallow scrape ponds that now draw migrating waterfowl to the marsh. Some only stay for a short rest before moving on, while others stick around for the summer to raise a family.

In 1999, an assortment of nieces, nephews and a few students from Barneveld High School helped plant swamp white oaks, dogwood and white cedars in the marsh. The oaks have begun to produce fruit and the evergreens now constitute a thriving "cedar swamp."

That same year, rows of white spruce and red oak seedlings filled up four acres on the west ridge. The spruce are doing fine, the oaks not so good.

In 2001, Ray Spease of Dodgeville brought in his backhoe to break up the tiles installed years ago to dry out the bottom. Now, grasslands act as a filter of sorts, absorbing much of the runoff from the surrounding hills.

In 2002, neighbor Walt Woods began carving out a trail and a clear cut on the west slope, the project designed to improve wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, Walt died (much too young) of a heart attack before he had a chance to finish the job. Ray Harris, Sr. completed the project, but refused payment. "Give it to Walt's widow," he insisted.

At least a few of the high bush cranberry, nannyberry vibernum, sergeant crab and Washington hawthorn buried at the time have taken off, offering a great bedding area for deer and a secure hiding place for smaller critters. Balsam seedlings were added later, making their living space even more comfortable along "Walt's Trail."

In 2004, Ray Harris Jr. and his backhoe grubbed out a mishmash of box elders, willows and other invaders along the north side of the Pecatonica. Oaks, cedars and hazelnut took their place.

In 2005, crops were planted for the last time in the marsh as the last 10-acre field was taken out of production. Dave Wisnefske and his Pheasants Forever friends seeded it down to an assortment of grasses and wildflowers, all cost shared through the Conservation Reserve Program.

Leopold knew that our efforts are a reflection of the culture that spawns the attitudes and behaviors of its citizens. His land ethic views each of us as belonging to a community encompassing all living plants, birds and animals, as well as land formations, soil configurations and hydrologic cycles.

As Leopold wrote in the foreword to "A Sand County Almanac," "When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten."

-Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer and can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at