With the help of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Cathy Bleser and Dan Krunnfusz of Iowa County extend their passion for conservation stewardship on their remote Driftless Area property, affectionately nicknaming the oak trees they have worked to restore.
Cathy Bleser and Dan Krunnfusz purchased their 49-acre property in rural Iowa County, Wisconsin, in 2019. The open-grown oaks and rocky knob topography of the Driftless area drew them to the land. They established their family farmstead on a former crop field and converted the remaining land to native prairie. Most of their acreage is dominated by oak and central hardwood forest tree species, with a jack pine relict crowning the rocky knob. But in order to see the forest for the trees, they wanted to have a detailed plan to implement as a guide for their conservation goals.
Cathy and Dan recognized the potential of their forestland to provide high-quality wildlife and native plant diversity. They applied for funding assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and received cost-share assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) for a written Forest Management Plan. Once the projects outlined in their initial plan were completed, they applied for additional EQIP funding for 2.9 acres of Brush Management and 24.3 acres of non-commercial Forest Stand Improvement funded through the Beginning Farmer Fund Pool.
The transformation of their forestland has been dramatic. By removing select trees and decreasing understory invasive shrub density, they have been able to create conditions favorable for oaks and understory vegetation. During her visit to Cathy and Dan’s restored site, Iowa County NRCS Soil Conservationist Kaitlin Schott said, “It’s rare to see such a rapid transformation on our woodlands. The results here are a testament to the dedication of the landowners as stewards of this land.”
In every interaction with NRCS, Cathy and Dan have emphasized that their focus for the property is restoration. They have even affectionately nicknamed some of the venerable old-timer open-grown oaks. “I’ll never feel as though I actually own all this. We just feel we have to restore it; leave it better,” Cathy reflected.
Cathy and Dan plan to continue to implement the practices recommended in their Forest Management Plan, including follow-up treatment on their brush management and expanding the practice to additional acres. In an effort to enhance the diversity of understory plants, they aim to persist in using prescribed fire and interseeding as effective management tools. Once they are satisfied with the baseline conservation conditions they have achieved, Cathy and Dan have considered applying for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to maintain and further their conservation goals.