A Place for Nature

Posted on August 7, 2017 in Landowner Stories

By Leo Schlunz, Chariton

Leo Schlunz with INHF land stewardship interns
INHF's land stewardship interns spend a day on Leo's (in white shirt) property learning and lending a hand on the land.

“Why did you put a conservation easement on your land?”

This is a question that a lot of my friends have asked me. The short answer is that I love nature and want my piece of nature to survive after I am gone.

The long answer is that I want my property to forever be a place where frogs sing their choirs in the marsh, and Canada geese proclaim their territory in the spring. Where Virginia bluebells, Dutchman breeches, green dragons and other wildflowers bloom in the woods. Where one can see and hear woodcock do their mating dance, wild turkey gobblers proclaim a new day and barred owls announce that night has come. Where the red-shouldered hawk screams “Do not trespass on my territory.” Where songbirds sing and build nests as everything turns green, and the timber smells of flowers and fungus, a perfume you will never smell outside of a woods.

Prairie flowers bloom on Leo's property
Prairie blazing star and gray-headed coneflowers bloom on Leo's land.

I want the marsh to always be alive with the incessant song of the marsh wren and young ducks swimming around the ever-rising muskrat houses in the cattails in the summer. Where the tree and rough-winged swallows swoop over the marsh feeding on insects by day, replaced at nightfall by bats that are raising their young in the timber under the loose bark of the shagbark hickory. Where the prairie starts to bloom with yellow black-eyed Susan, purple prairie clover and purple coneflowers. Where a Dickcissel sings from a compass plant stalk, and the lightning bug flashes out its Morse code at night.

Where as summer slips into fall, the prairie is painted with the pink blooms of prairie blazing star and the yellows of gray-headed coneflowers and goldenrod. Where Indian grass push up their feathery seed heads, and big bluestem produce their turkey feet. Where down in the marsh the redwing blackbirds rest on the brown torches of the cattails and, if you are lucky, you may see an otter family feeding on crawfish and playing. Where when the marsh is low, shorebirds flock in to feed.

Where when days grow shorter, the woods show off their fall display, and the prairie grass turns rust.  Where migrating ducks stop at the marsh to feed and rest, and in the woods the buck deer fight for breeding rights. Where squirrels send out their chattering warning that a bobcat is on the hunt, and crickets and cicadae warn us that winter is on its way.

Where during the winter, fresh fallen snow brings silence and animal tracks whisper “Who made me? Who made me?”

Then I ask them, “Who would not want to save this for future generations?”

Often they respond, “Sure, but now they control everything you can do on your property.”

I tell them, “No, I am the one that wrote the easement, and I am the one that decided what could or could not be done on my property. But it does prevent someone in the future from destroying it.”

I go on to explain that the person granting the easement determines the details. That there is a section that specifically states what can be done and where, and another section that states what cannot be done. That it includes the intent of the easement, and that anything not covered by what can or can’t be done is judged by how it effects the purpose of the easement.

Sometimes they say “Sure, sounds good, but when you are gone no one will care, and the new owner will do as they wish.”

I explain to them that a representative of Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), which holds the easement, is required to inspect it annually to ensure the easement is being followed, and if it is not, INHF can and will take action to rectify the problem.  

I also mention that the easement provides some good income tax breaks.

If you own a treasured property that you don’t want to see destroyed for short term monetary gain, I highly recommend you contact INHF and ask about a conservation easement.  

Leo Schlunz is a long-time conservationist and avid birder who spent much of his career working at Iowa DNR Red Haw State Park in Lucas County. He has owned and managed his land for many years. In 2013 Leo donated a conservation easement on the property and in 2016 donated the property to INHF subject to a reserved life estate, ensuring that the land will be protected and cared for in the long term.