DOWNSVILLE — John Thomas and Kathy Ruggles have spent the past two decades restoring native prairie grasses on 20 acres at their rural Dunn County home.
The couple also has worked to remove invasive species, such as buckthorn and honeysuckle, from 5 other acres they own.
Their work with their surroundings isn't finished. They plan to make their property more nature-friendly next year by adding housing for bluebirds, wood ducks and bats. And they will spread their knowledge of the environment by teaching Downsville Elementary School students how to build birdhouses and about conservation practices.
Thomas and Ruggles were recently recognized for their conservation efforts. On Feb. 19, Wisconsin Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Ben Brancel presented the couple with an award recognizing their conservation efforts by making them members of the Conservation Stewardship Program, a voluntary program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program accepts producers who already practice good stewardship on their crop, grazing and forest lands.
The prairie grasses Thomas and Ruggles have planted provide wildlife habitat for animals, particularly to grassland birds such as meadowlarks and bobolinks, Ruggles said.
"Grassland birds are the most highly endangered birds in the U.S. today," Ruggles said.
The couple lives on land sandwiched between two lakes. They strongly believe in protecting wild areas for future generations.
"When I was a child, I had the distinct privilege of enjoying the wild," Thomas said. "I want my kids, their kids and everybody's kids to have a taste of what the wild land is like."
The Conservation Stewardship Program also recognized Heather Flashinski, a rural Cadott farmer.
Flashinski, her husband, Mark, and their two children Nicholas, 4, and Helayna, 2, live on an 80-acre farm near Cadott. They have 40 beef cattle and last year raised 700 chickens.
Flashinski has planted a tree border that will serve dual purposes, providing shade for cattle and a wildlife habitat. She also improved pasture land on the farm by planting legumes to increase the natural forage available to her cattle and wildlife.
"The more forage diversity, the better for all animals in the area," Flashinski said.
As added benefits, Flashinski's work will prevent soil erosion and reduce greenhouse gases.
Last year, nearly 500 Wisconsin farmers and forest landowners enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program. About 760,000 acres in Wisconsin are enrolled in the program.
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