Your woodlot is, in fact, a historical document that faithfully records
your personal philosophy. Let it tell a story of tolerance toward living
things, and of skill in the greatest arts: how to use the earth without
making it ugly. (Aldo Leopold, radio address to Wisconsin farmers, 1937).
The recent emergence of new cooperatives made up of farmers and other
private landowner dedicated to preserving and protecting their forest and
the eco-system of which they are part grows out of a long history of
initiatives by Wisconsin farmers to organize themselves to protect
wildlife, increase biodiversity, and to enhance the ecological services
provided by nature. The earliest of these "nature cooperatives" came about
thanks to the tireless efforts of Aldo Leopold, America's foremost 20th
century conservationist and ecologist.
Perhaps the earliest example was the creation, in 1931, of the Riley Game
Cooperative, in Dane County, west Central Wisconsin. This cooperative
brought together a group of farmers with a group of hunters to raise wild
game using carefully prescribed land management methods. Using
recommendations from Leopold's classic book "Game Management" the farmers
supplied the land for the cooperative and the hunters provided feed and
labor. Together they created food plots, shelters, grape tangles, rose
clumps and windbreaks to maximize habitat and sustenance for wildlife.
The hunters paid farmers a "use fee" to hunt, which providing badly needed
income for depression-hit family farms. This cooperative grew to 1,700
acres and lasted for several decades. In a 1944 essay by Leopold he
describes the success of this cooperative:
"It was a pleasant thing that first spring (1932) as we strolled over these
formerly gameless farms, to hear quail whistling in every fence-row and
pheasant cocks crowing all over the Sugar Creek Marsh."
This cooperative was an inspiration for others as well. An eighty-year old
farmer in Jefferson County, Stoughten Faville, organized a group of farmers
into the Faville Grove Wildlife Experimental Area. Working with Leopold
and a number of his students, these farmers researched the varying food
value of different species of prairie plants and studied the impact of
different habitats on wildlife populations.
Buoyed by this success, Leopold decided to replicate this model using a
broader, landscape-wide approach. In Coon Valley, Wisconsin he persuaded
315 farmers to join together for a five-year experiment. Working closely
with the BLANK of Wisconsin, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Soil
Erosion Service, these farmers altered their farming practices in what
Leopold called "an adventure in cooperative conservation."
Farmers switched to contour plowing, strip cropping, rotations, and they
began to fence off steep slopes to prevent livestock from damaging fragile
grasses that prevent soil erosion. They replanted barks, slopes and
gullies. After only one-year bird populations had doubled, soil erosion
was greatly reduced, and the countryside made more beautiful.
A new generation of nature cooperatives is beginning to develop in
southwestern Wisconsin, called Sustainable Woods Cooperatives. Inspired by
forester and forest-owner Jim Birkemeier, these cooperatives bring together
farmers and other small woodlot and forest owners to pursue ecologically
and economically sustainable forestry. One of their key focuses is
enhancing the biodiversity of indigenous plant communities - especially the
restoration and preservation of prairie and oak savanna, both threatened
ecosystems that support a host of unique and increasingly rare plants and
Leopold captured the essence of the concept that underlies the sustainable
woods cooperatives, both the old and new, in one of his radio address to
farmers. In this talked he spelled out the ethics and philosophy that would
guide this important emerging wing of the cooperative movement.
" Our own place in the scheme of things is not the less tolerable for
making room for a few of our fellow creatures… Your woodlot is, in fact, a
historical document that faithfully records your personal philosophy. Let
it tell a story of tolerance toward living things, and of skill in the
greatest arts: how to use the earth without making it ugly."
For more information on nature and forestry cooperatives contact the
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2105 First Avenue South,
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404. 612-870-3400, 612-870-4846 (fax) or visit us
on the web at www.iatp.org.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 1st Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
612.870.3400 / 612.870.4846 (fax)
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