One property owner in Sawyer County saw encroaching development near his property and wanted no part of it. Another in southern Bayfield County, the fourth-generation to live on a small lake his great-grandfather had named, wanted protections that couldn’t by undone by future owners or government actions. And yet another owner who lives in a cabin she built herself wanted protections against development not just for herself but also for the wildlife that shares her wooded land.
Their parcels vary in size and natural features and their motives differed slightly but their shared vision of land protection will be achieved thanks to conservation easements approved recently by The Bayfield Regional Conservancy. The easements extend into perpetuity, putting development restrictions not just on current owners but on all future owners as well.
Abett Icks, whose easement covers the 27-acre parcel on Little Bass Lake near Cable where she has lived since 1976, said she had thought about getting a conservation easement for nearly a decade before finally acting.
“I always felt it should be protected,” she said. “I wish I had a hundred more acres and I’d protect it all. I look around the world and see so much destruction. Now, I can sleep at night.”
Conservation easements are legal agreements between property owners and land trusts or similar bodies in which the owner places restrictions to protect the natural values of the land. Restrictions can vary, allowing uses desired by the owner while prohibiting unwanted development. The owner retains all rights of ownership while the land trust monitors compliance with the restrictions going forward.
Steve Dahl, who donated an easement on his 57 acres on the East Fork of the Chippewa River in the Town of Winter in Sawyer County, said seeing development on a property just down the river motivated him.
“It was a beautiful property…that got chopped up and developed into 200-foot lots,” he said. “We just said we can never let it happen to this (land).”
Dahl, who lives in the Twin Cities but has owned the land since 1982, said the process of settling on the language of the easement was difficult at times but the final product offers the protections he was seeking with sufficient flexibility to replace a small, rustic cabin with a new one. In the meantime, he will continue to visit often to plant red and white pines and, with the guidance of a good forester, managed the property’s varied ecosystems. The property has coniferous and hardwood forest, ponds and wetlands and Chippewa River frontage.
“That’s what we enjoy,” he said. “It’s just fun for us to be up there. You go in there and all these areas are available, and they will be available forever. I’m not going to be around forever, my son’s not going to be around forever, my grandson’s not going to be around forever (but) I think I’ve done what I can to protect it in perpetuity.”
Joseph Brady’s easement covers just 15 acres on Lake Wilipyro in the Town of Drummond but the property has significance to him far beyond its size. His great-grandfather was the first resident on the lake and even helped name it by using the initials of early owners. Brady, who has degrees in forestry with an emphasis on shoreline protection, also had thought for a number of years about donating an easement, especially when a neighbor and friend who was a board member of Bayfield Regional Conservancy took the same action for his property. Noting that elected officials in state government have been making changes to local shoreline protection rules, Brady said he was further persuaded when his neighbor said, “you can’t count on the people in Madison to protect your property.
“Well, now it’s protected. Yes, it’s money (to obtain an easement) but what are you going to do. The truth of the matter is we’ve done quite well since 1914 (but) we just can’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I have to accept that I have to do my part, just like I’m asking future generations to do their part.”
Brady said he initially had concerns about the potential impact of an easement on future resale but decided protecting the property was more important. Icks said she, too, considered the issue of future sales but determined in the end the easement would add to her property’s value, not detract.
Most people who move to northern Wisconsin do so for the quiet, for the woods and water that would be protected by an easement, she said, adding it was enjoyment of the outdoors as a child that drew her to northern Wisconsin.
“It’s a wonderful place to be, and it will be for someone else and the next person and the next person,” she said. “It enhances the value of the property, it absolutely does. It enhances it totally.”
Erika Lang, conservation director for Bayfield Regional Conservancy, said each of the properties covered by the new easements come with a conservation bonus because each abuts other public lands. “They are really important properties in terms of wildlife corridors,” she said. “Each of these landowners donated specific property rights to the Conservancy so that the conservation values will be protected forever," Lang said. "From now on the Conservancy is responsible for assuring that all current and future property owners will use the land in such a manner that these publicly recognized conservation values will remain."