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Taking conservation into their own hands: How landowners can protect natural resources

Pollinator field
Teresa Homsi
/
WCMU
Cheryl Meyer's 17-acre pollinator field is home to a number of different native plants and wildflowers. The field was once used to grow corn.

Black-eyed Susans, goldenrod, bee balm, and milkweed are just some of the plants in Cheryl Meyer’s 17-acre pollinator field.

“This was all corn, and now you just get a lot of different plants,” she said.

Meyer’s property has more than just grassy fields. It rivals a nature reserve, with its pond, marshes, forests, and wild orchards. But it wasn’t always this way.

For the last 20 years, Meyer and her husband have slowly been acquiring farmland and transforming it back into a natural space.

“None of these other trees were here,” she said. “It was just a wide open field from the foundation of the old house to the goat barn. I mean, it’s been a lot of planning.”

The couple has planted thousands of different trees and shrubs, and let grasses grow wild - in the hope of restoring habitats for deer, birds, bats and butterflies.

Meyer said she’s seen the hard work pay off, and her now 175-acre property is an oasis for wildlife. And she wants to keep it that way. To accomplish that, Meyer said she’s considering applying for a conservation easement.

“The thought of having it subdivided is just heartbreaking,” Meyer said. “As people expand and urban sprawl just sort of keeps encroaching, it becomes more and more important to save what land there is.”

Meyer already participates in the USDA’s Pollinator Habitat Initiative and Conservation Reserve Program, which reimburses property owners for restoring land for pollinators.

A conservation easement would prevent any future development on Meyer’s property, even if the ownership changes.

Mike Lavelli is the executive director of the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy. He says there are different types of easements, but they work similarly.

Property owners either donate land to a trust or register it with a government agency like the state or USDA. They can then claim a tax deduction, and the land is protected indefinitely.

Some easements focus on protecting natural resources while other preserve agricultural land for its historic heritage. Lavelli said easements - of all types - are popular in areas experiencing high growth and development.

“Maybe there's a river, lake or forest they grew up loving, and they just would hate to see that turned into something else,” Lavelli said. “Even if they don't have the benefit of using it, they want to see that as maintained as that type of space.”

In Michigan, 27,000 acres of land are preserved through conservation easements, according to a representative from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. This number doesn’t include the thousands of acres conserved through organizations like the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.

Easement
Teresa Homsi
/
WCMU
Cheryl Meyer's 175-acre property used to be an open field. Now, trees fill the horizon.

Back on Cheryl Meyer’s property, she said a conservation easement is a way to help out a “little piece of the planet.”

“Half the world's on fire, it feels like,” Meyer said. “Knowing that we can do something to help at least maintain our small portion and maybe help. I think there's a trickle down effect, and it makes it a lot less dire.”

Easement or not - Meyer said she will continue to fight invasive autumn olives, and plant trees to nurture a natural haven - in hopes that it can make a small difference in a big world.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corp Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She is covering rural environmental issues, public health and Michigan commerce. Homsi has a bachelor’s from Central Michigan University in environmental studies, journalism and anthropology. During her undergraduate, she was a beat reporter for CMU’s student newspaper Central Michigan Life and interned for the Huron Daily Tribune. She has also interned for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy in the superfund section. *Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms, more info at https://www.reportforamerica.org/