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Stop 8: The Old Farmhouse

Aldo Leopold wrote several essays about the impact of agriculture on the landscape, and the conversation continues today. Learn more about the intersection of agriculture and conservation from Serge Koenig, long-time Sauk County Conservationist.

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Video Transcription

My name is Serge Koenig, and I work at Sauk County Conservation Department. Our full department name is Land Resources and Environment Department, and I’m a conservation technician there. I would just say in Sauk County, and I think it’s true for a lot of the counties around here, a predominant land use that you see, from aerial photos and from driving through, is agriculture. It’s dairy farms, beef farms, row crop farms.

Most of the land is actually in agriculture. As a result of that, that influences the quality of our landscape then. And so it’s important that we connect with our landowners to help influence decisions that will improve so many things in the environment. And so, I think there is no choice but landowners and farmers, they have to be conservationists for this to work, and we have to be understanding of our farmers and producers for all of this to work. One of our biggest pushes it to encourage a grazing movement in Sauk County to kind of put more of our lands into permanent vegetation agriculture in the form of, like, rotational grazing and bringing animals back on the landscape in a way of, like, mimicking nature, mimicking what was here, mimicking the bison herds and the elks herds and the deer herds that would come through. I know with our grazing program here, we have enough farms now that are in grazing that are permanent vegetation, grass and legumes, great pollinator habitats. You know, you walk through these pastures, and butterflies and bumblebees and… you can just hear the buzzing, it’s so strong. And you’ll hear the birds, the bobolinks and meadowlarks.

And so there’s the movement there, and there is enough critical mass it seems like in our area, where seeing grazing on the landscape in a managed way is more acceptable than it ever probably was here, because there’s more and more of it happening. I think too often those of us in the conservation field, we’re so focused on the environmental piece and how’s the land doing and how – all those things are important. But people control the land, and if you don’t- if you can’t work with the people and inspire them to change by making a deeper connection with them, if we don’t do that, all this other stuff doesn’t matter. I think that’s the evolution for me as a conservation technician is just kind of learning and understanding that it starts with the social piece and the emotions piece, and then we move towards all the other conservation stuff.

I just, what I find is like, if you get that right, then the conservation just comes along for the ride. That’s the famous Leopold line, right? Conservation has to work for the land and for the landowner. But I think we’ve neglected the landowner in the process, and we have not understood what it really means to connect with people. At the end of the day, most of our lands are privately owned. And so, we have to be able to connect with people in order to influence their decisions that affect all of us.

And so I guess that’s probably a parting message that I would like to leave us with.