Richland County Land Conservation Awards

The Richland County Land Conservation Department held its annual awards banquet and honored two area couples.

The 2017 Richland County Forestry Improvement Award went to Jim and Marilyn Williamson. Jim and Marilyn purchased their first property in 1963; it was approximately 135 acres of woods, fields, and pasture in rural Eagle Township. In 1990, along with four of their sons and their families an additional property was purchased adjoining the original 135 acres. The purchase of the “Russo Property” increased the ownership to almost 400 acres.

The Williamson’s love for the outdoors and conservation mindset had them working with the local Forestry office soon after their first purchase. In 1964 a fencing project was done to protect the “Back 40” from livestock grazing, and a timber stand improvement (TSI) project also took place that year. The focus of the timber stand improvement was to remove “weed” trees and release better growing stock for the future. These practices set the stage for the “Back 40” to become one of the nicest stands of timber in the County. Timber stand improvement cuttings followed in 1974, 1975, and 1981, targeting approximately 10 acres each time. If you visit the property today you can clearly see that this stand has been cared for over the years.

In 1999 the “Back 40” was entered in to the Managed Forest Law program, and in 2002 an additional 80 acres of the “Russo property” was also entered in to the Managed Forest Law program. Since entering the Managed Forest Law program the Williamson’s have had multiple timber sales on the property and have again taken on timber stand improvement projects to improve the future of their forest. Even though 120 acres are in the Managed Forest Law program, the forest management practices have encompassed many more acres.

In 2001 a small tree planting took place on the property, walnut, oak, pine and spruce were planted in two different sections of the property under the Conservation Reserve Program. These plantings proved to be challenging, battling the deer and other issues some of the trees died off and needed to be replanted, and now some of these trees are well on their way to becoming a forest.

In 2008 a black walnut harvest took place on the property, and in 2013 another harvest took place that focused on the “Back 40” and the exceptional hardwoods that are growing there. This particular harvest removed nearly 50,000 board feet of timber, including Ash, Basswood, Sugar Maple, and Oak. In 2015, another timber sale on the property removed 66,000 board feet of mostly ash; the goal was to release young healthy sugar maple and to capture the value of the declining ash due to insect and disease concerns.

In recent years there have been almost annual timber stand improvement projects on the property, both on Managed Forest Law and non-Managed Forest Law portions; these were usually focused on areas that had Ironwood over-topping sugar maple and other hardwoods.

There is also a small prairie planting on the property that is regularly maintained by prescribed burning, one of the favorite plants that show up each year is the tall yellow flower of the Compass Plant. One other main stay at the property is the annual making of maple syrup, which is another sustainable forestry product.

A true steward of the land strives to leave the land better than when they received it, Jim and Marilyn have definitely done a great job of improving their property and enjoying it along the way. They have passed down the love for the outdoors through multiple generations and the hard work they have put towards land management will continue to show long in to the future.

Tom and Nancy Clary own 195 acres in Ithaca Township. They purchased the home farm in 1978. Two years later in 1980, they bought the Bladoew farm next door. They kept the cropland on that farm and sold off the woods and house. Tom and Nancy currently farm their 175 acres of cropland and rent another 170 acres of cropland.

For many years they farmed cropland next to Bear Creek that had been ditched and tiled. After many years of battling wet ground and beavers, they sold all of that cropland to the DNR. They kept the drier fields on the east side of Highway 130. They also had some issues in the barnyard next to their barn. The stream went through the barnyard and was causing health issues for their cows. They worked with DNR and the Natural Resources Conservation Service and were able to move the stream away from the barnyard. In return, the Clary’s fenced off the stream so the cattle had no access to it.

Tom and Nancy milked cows until they sold the herd in 2003. Since then, they have remodeled the barn with free stalls and large pens to house bred and open heifers periodically as Tom buys and sells dairy cattle along with the cash grain operation. The change from dairy to a cash grain operation has changed their cropping rotations because they use less hay.

Tom has always rotated hay in the rotation, even after selling the cows. A farmer about three miles down the road bought the hay from them, so Tom continued to rotate about 70 acres of hay into most of the sloped fields. Last year, that changed when the farmer was able to get hay from a farmer next door. Tom had to change his rotation again. He has now reduced his hay acres to about 35. Tom knows that there are certain steep fields that need to have hay on them. Those fields have a rotation of one year corn, one year soybeans and then planted to hay. This year, Tom worked with Land Conservation staff to install contour buffers on some of the sloped fields. He uses a corn-soybean rotation on those fields and the bottom fields. He likes this rotation because he can avoid the Genetically Modified Organism seed. He said there is a growing market for the conventional corn and soybeans. Everything but the bottom fields are planted using no-till methods. He also leaves the waterways in grass to protect the land from soil erosion. These practices are used on both their cropland and the rented land. Tom and Nancy also completed farmer training for their nutrient management plan. Because they no longer have manure to spread, they have to buy their fertilizer. Tom is using this to see what his crops need so he only buys what is needed.

Tom and Nancy treat the farms they rent as they do their own. With cost-sharing in 2012, they constructed a waterway on the Schmitz farm. It is much easier to cross with equipment then the ditch. He is now looking at improving a waterway on his own property.

In 2010, Tom and Nancy enrolled 14.6 acres in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. These cropland and pasture areas are located within 150 feet of the stream. The fields were hard to farm because of flooding. They went a step further and enrolled them in a perpetual agreement with the state. By doing this, they have reduced soil erosion and runoff into Bear Creek. On their own, Tom and Nancy decided to leave a ten foot grass buffer between the stream and the corn and soybeans on other fields. The drawback has been that they do not have equipment to periodically mow the grass strip. Tom is contemplating planting grass headlands at the ends of the steeper fields for turning on instead of planting a few rows up and down the hill in hopes of reducing soil erosion.

Tom and Nancy have not done a lot of constructed practices over the years, but they have done a lot of management practices on the land. These practices have had a big impact on reducing soil erosion and improving water quality.