Monroe County Landowner Protects Land, Water, and Wildlife from Development

Canniff woodland
Conservancy Stories
News Releases

SPARTA, WI–April 15, 2020–With the protection of 88 acres of land in Monroe County, Wisc., this month, Mississippi Valley Conservancy now protects more than 21,000 acres in its efforts to conserve native habitat, farmland, and scenic landscapes in its nine-county service territory.

The Conservancy signed a conservation easement agreement with Diane and Charles Canniff to protect the land they own six miles northwest of Sparta. The land features undeveloped wooded bluffland, prairie, hundreds of seeps and springs, and a tributary to Big Creek, a class I trout stream.

Diane Canniff acquired the property more than 50 years ago and has been considering a conservation easement for more than 20 years. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a land trust, in this case, Mississippi Valley Conservancy, and a landowner. It is designed to protect the land from the destruction of habitat that is caused by subdivision, mining, and other kinds of development. The intent is to protect the wildlife habitat and ensure the resilience of the Driftless Area to the threats of development and climate change. The easement is permanent and stays with the land even when sold.

“I started thinking about protection of the land even before MVC was founded,” said Diane. “When we moved to Wisconsin, we were thrilled to be here,” she said. “In the wintertime we’d go out and sit on our bench near where we had suet for the birds. I got so I could close my eyes and tell what birds came by the sounds of their wings.”

According to Zac Millbrand, stewardship coordinator for the Conservancy, “Diane’s land is really a hidden gem. The amount of diversity on her property is impressive. Lands such as these act as a sanctuary for wildlife and less common native plants.”

The property supports a diverse range of plant and animal species including the three-birds orchid and butternut trees, both state-listed “species of special concern”.

The property is also an excellent refuge for animals. Ruffed grouse drum in the hills; great-horned owls, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles hunt for dinner. The presence of raptors suggests a healthy food web of insects, small mammals, amphibians and a diverse plant community. More stealthy visitors include bobcats, bears, even a passing wolf.

Pete Quirin, a neighbor to the Canniffs, cares for the property and walks his dog daily on the land. He has kept a list of the wildlife he has seen there over the years, including a very recent discovery.

“I saw my first fisher ever on the land. I had to get my book out and identify it.”

With this easement the Conservancy has now protected a total of 21,056 acres.

“The Canniff family have been members of the Conservancy for many years,” said Carol Abrahamzon, the Conservancy’s executive director. “We are honored that they have chosen Mississippi Valley Conservancy with the privilege of protecting the ecological values of their property.”