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La Farge property owners help protect 40 acres of land

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Joan and Kurt Peterson receive a commemorative print at the closing signing for their conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy.
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A favorite rock outcropping on the Vernon County property of Joan and Kurt Peterson that is now permanently protected by Mississippi Valley Conservancy.
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Kurt Peterson visits a favorite rock outcropping on the property he and his wife Joan have permanently protected for wildlife habitat into the future.

LA FARGE, Wis. (WXOW)- A Vernon County couple has helped permanently protect 40 acres of land with the help of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

Chicago natives Joan and Kurt Peterson first purchased their La Farge property in 2011. After spending some time admiring the wildlife while staying in a nearby guest house, the couple said it didn't take long before they knew it was the right place to call home.

According to the Peterson's, Kurt always had a love for the area after having grown up fishing around Wisconsin. Joan, a certified Wisconsin Master Naturalist, stated she was easily swayed to make the move once she discovered the nearby Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

The pair said their new home was built with great consideration of the surrounding environment. The structure's design not only maximizes the use of natural light for passive solar gain, but the home is heated with a geothermal system and features sustainable materials and fixtures as much as possible.

In an effort to help offset their carbon footprint, the Peterson's said they also invested in two off-site solar panels with their local renewable energy cooperative.

Since moving in a decade earlier, the pair have helped protect their diverse land. Various native species call the property home, including limestone bluffs, mixed forests, a sedge meadow with a creek running through it, and a handful of exposed dry cliffs that help provide shelter for wildlife.

Joan first began to entertain the idea of protecting their home under a land easement, after reading about the Mississippi Valley Conservancy in a local magazine. The pair stated they then visited several nearby properties to learn more about protection efforts, before officially reaching out to the organization.

According to the Mississippi Valley Conservancy easement, a legal agreement that subsequent owners must honor, the 40 acre area can't be mined, developed for housing, or otherwise disturbed. Under these guidelines, officials said the land can continue to offer scenic values, help slow runoff through permanent vegetation, and provide habitat for wildlife.

The Peterson's stated the agreement gives them a sense of peace knowing that the land will be protected for generations to come. “It’s our legacy for the land and the plants and animals that live here,” added Joan.

Conservancy stewardship associate Krysten Zummo-Strong points out how crucial it is to protect areas of species diversity, such the Peterson property.

"As our climate continues to shift, pushing species further north and higher in elevation, properties with this kind of habitat diversity will play an important role in providing our native plants and animals the space to adapt,” said Zummo-Strong.

On top of helping manage and protect the land's forest diversity, the Peterson's said they are citizen-scientists. As a part of the Wildcat Mountain Important Bird Area, the property contains four native oak species that provide food and habitat for over 500 species of insects and birds.

Understanding how important it is to have data on rare species, the pair documents such sightings to natural resources agencies that track and record bird populations, including eBird and Project FeederWatch.

Joan and Kurt said they have especially enjoyed helping create and protect bird habitats. According to the couple, they have placed nesting boxes, provided feeders, and planted chokecherry, native prairie plants, and serviceberry bushes throughout the land.

“We see ourselves as temporary caretakers of this property,” said Joan. “We purchased it for the right to enjoy it during our lives.” The land is also enjoyed by the Petersons’ daughter and granddaughter who live nearby.

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Grace Gilles

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