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John O. Lane, 61, is one of thousands of farmers throughout the country working to improve natural resources conditions on their land. But Lane also has the distinction of being the first landowner in Wisconsin to sign up for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. During a groundbreaking ceremony in 2001, he enrolled 15.1 acres of his 160-acre farm in the town of Bloomer (Chippewa County).
The land has been in his family since 1867 when his great-grandfather received the homestead as payment for his service in the Civil War. Throughout its history, the Pioneer Stock Farm has supported cattle, sheep, horses and chickens. Of the 160 acres, about 60 acres are wooded, 20 are swamp and another 80 acres devoted to cropland – corn, oats and hay.
In the late 1970s, Lane began renting the cropland and it alternated between beans and corn. But when the cropland changed, Lane says he started noticing meadowlarks, bobolinks, blackbirds, killdeer and bluebirds leaving the area.
"The birds had lost their habitat and the insects they fed on," Lane recalls.
John credits his wife, Kathleen, for giving him a push to join the program for perpetuity.
"She walks this area and loves the trees and wildlife," Lane says. "So we put land into CREP because we love trees and this program allowed us to plant them. We couldn't afford to plant trees under the woodland tax program, but CREP set taxes as a lower rate and I could afford to plant trees."
Lane also was concerned that someone might try to develop the property in the future, especially around a pond on the property. CREP provided an up-front payment and reimbursement for the trees he planted. It also put his mind at ease that the land would not be developed.
Lane says he had "a thousand questions" about the program but found Farm Service Agency and county staff helpful.
"When you sign up for something forever, you want to make sure that it is the best idea for you," he says.
Since signing into CREP, the Lanes have planted trees and installed buffers. The results have been favorable with a return of pheasants and meadowlarks.
"We're really proud of being in this program," Lane says. "I've put a lot of hours into this but it has been worth it – it's a good deal for me and it's a good deal for the environment. It's like my grandpa always said – 'the land was good to the Lanes and the Lanes are good to the land.'"
Natasha Kassulke is the associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.