“What avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949).
For most of their forty years of marriage, Carol and Tom Heinrich have sought out those blank spots on the map. From the bluff country along the Kickapoo River of Wisconsin, to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana, or the wilderness canoe country of Ontario’s Woodland Caribou, the couple has spent timing listening, learning plants and animals, and exploring the intimate portage trails between waterways in their lives. When they bought some 40 acres of land east of Hayward, they both acquired a sense of place for the land that they wished others in the future could feel. So the idea of a conservation easement grew from their wanderings on the forest around their home. From the vernal ponds that hatch into a spring chorus of peepers, the old field that gives a dance floor to mating woodcock, maple stands that give sweet spring sap flows, to the hollows where blood root grows, and buck scrapes & rubs mark the coming of late autumn are all phenologys that the Heinrichs wanted passed to future generations.
Conservation easements are not new to the Heinrichs. In grad school at the University of Montana, Tom studied how residents worked together to help preserve the Big Blackfoot River. Downstream of Carol’s home town of Sauk City, people worked to preserve the natural features of the Wisconsin River, giving rise to sixty miles of the Wisconsin State Riverway. So the couple contacted Couderay Waters Regional Land Trust about the potential for a conservation easement on their land. Members of the trust cruised the land, looking at conservation values that should be preserved. They climbed hillsides looking at basswood, red maple, white pine, red oak stands, and relict white pines that dot the forest. Then CWRLT discussed with Tom and Carol what their goals for the land were, what an easement does for housing developments or land sales, and made sure the couple really understood that forever means forever, and a future landowner cannot compromise the protected conservation values to fit their new ideas for the land. The result: an acre building site around their current home with a place to garden, hang solar panels if one wishes; the privilege to still log their land, and the forest that hides the fawns in the summer, gives flight patterns to mallards landing in the ponds, fire wood for winter nights; and the old field that gives blueberry & blackberry harvests and those woodcock mating grounds. And those blank spots expand as the land touches the county forest and, if one wanders correctly, four miles of exploring for coyote scat, fisher tracks, Labrador tea, big buck sheds, and space.
“The cool thing,” Carol Heinrich stated “is that CWRLT’s board is made up of local people, people who know this land well, understand the watersheds, the forest landscape, and appreciate the geography left by the glaciers.” Tom added, “Before their work with the land trust, the members of the board were already immersed in the soil, the streams, and the forests of Sawyer County through prior experiences. So we were real comfortable with their ideas, suggestions, and knowledge of writing the easement.”