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The Handbook for Northwoods Forest Conservation

Erin Gottsacker/WXPR

The COVID-19 pandemic has put conservation workshops and classes on hold, so the Northwoods Alliance and Partners in Forestry Cooperative came together to fill the void.

They published a handbook about Northwoods forest conservation as a resource for those interested in land management.

Joe Hovel and his wife started acquiring their land in Conover, Wisconsin when their son was just a baby.

On the 400 acre property, trees tower in every direction.

Since Joe Hovel started managing this property, his son, Mark, has grown up.

Now, they care for their land together.

Credit Erin Gottsacker/WXPR
Mark Hovel stands on his family's frozen lake.

“I guess you could say this land has been managed for two generations now,” Mark said.

Managing this much land requires a great deal of effort.

As we drive through the forested maze, Joe and Mark Hovel stop to point out the work they’ve done.

“Late last winter I thinned most of this several acres,” said Mark. “Some of the ground is too steep to work on in deep snow.”

From hinge cutting trees to breaking up soil, they manage their land to support the species of trees they want to see thrive.

“It would be red oak, red pine, white pine,” Mark said. “You know what would be really nice to see on this ground…that is white birch.”

For Joe and Mark Hovel, this work is worth the benefit.

In part, that’s because the Managed Forest Law program keeps their property taxes low enough to keep the land in their family.

Credit Erin Gottsacker/WXPR

Continuing to care for their land together is a high priority for Joe and Mark.

“Keeping woodland in families over multiple generations is something really important to see,” said Mark.

Engaging families in land management is part of what prompted Joe to work on publishing a handbook for people interested in conserving Northwoods forests.

“The primary goal of doing the handbook project was to promote this idea of trying to keep lands wholesome and keep them important to families and engage families in their management of their lands,” Joe said.

The Northwoods Forest Conservation Handbook starts with a dozen essays about conservation – what it means and why it’s important.

For Joe, forest conservation is important because land has four main values.

“Those values are economic, environmental, social and intrinsic,” Joe said. “And these four values not only stand alone, but they are intertwined and inseparable.”

Joe said the economic value of land is important because owning land always comes at a cost.

“But it goes much farther than that. As a landowner or even as a lover of the public lands, the environmental benefits of the land are extremely important,” said Joe. “By that we mean the wildlife habitat that they provide, the watershed protection they provide.”

Beyond that, managing lands together with friends or family provides social connections. And, Joe said, simply enjoying land offers an intrinsic value.

Credit Erin Gottsacker/WXPR
Joe Hovel looks up at a birch tree on his property in Conover, WI.

But reaping the economic, environmental, social and intrinsic benefits of land, requires management.

The handbook provides a list of approaches for conserving and managing land, including establishing a community forest with public access, or using assistance programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Services.

There’s a lot of resources available, but Joe said if there’s one thing a new landowner should do, it’s start a stewardship plan.

“It will be a snapshot of the land and the concerns you’ll have to address for the land going forward,” he said.

A plan like that is necessary for landowners to take advantage of some of the available tax benefits, and Joe said it’s good to be knowledgeable about your property.

The Hovels have been building on their knowledge of their land for more than 30 years.

At this point, they practically know every tree on their property.

“I think that’s the prettiest pine on the property, there to your right," said Joe. "Look at the crown. It’s just a gorgeous tree.”

With the release of the Northwoods Forest Conservation handbook, they’re trying to inspire others to manage their properties too.

To request a copy of the handbook, send an email with your name and mailing address to nwa@nnex.net or partnersinforestry@gmail.com, or else call Northwood Alliance at 715-479-8528.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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