356-acre farm permanently protected for agriculture and wildlife
Good news that on 8/24/2016, with your support and in partnership with the Rock County Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program, we placed a permanent conservation easement on the 356-acre Sayre Farm east of Evansville. This easement permanently protects a large working farm in the heart of the Footville Leased Public Hunting Grounds, where for nearly 70 years landowners have leased their farms to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for public hunting and other recreation. The easement represents a significant accomplishment to protect the agricultural productivity, wildlife habitat, and recreational resources of Rock County.
The extended Sayre family has included prominent members of the Rock County agricultural community for over 165 years. Family patriarch David Franklin Sayre emigrated from New Jersey to Fulton in the Wisconsin Territory in 1840, intending to practice law. When the railroad bypassed Fulton, he moved to the Town of Porter and began farming around 1851 to supplement his legal practice. You can read an interesting story about the role of oxen in pioneer farming, including breaking the prairie sod on Sayre farm land, in the Autumn 2015 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History (“A Generation of Oxen”).
More than a century and a half later, Sayre descendants continue to farm in Rock County, producing a variety of agricultural products, while providing wildlife habitat and recreation through various conservation programs and Footville Voluntary Public Access program leases.
Mike Foy, DNR wildlife biologist for Rock County, says the timing of this easement couldn’t be better. “Although the Footville Public Hunting Grounds has been in existence since at least 1948, providing thousands of acres of private land for public pheasant hunting and other recreation over the years, the project has always been vulnerable to the renewal of dozens of annual leases with uncertain funding. Worried about the project’s long-term continuation, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board designated the project as the Footville Wildlife Area when they approved the Sugar River Basin Master Plan in June. While the Footville project will still primarily depend on private land leases, the acquisition of the Sayre Conservation Easement will provide an important anchor for the new wildlife area, hopefully ensuring its continued existence for many years into the future.”
Tom Sweeney, who administers the PACE program for Rock County, is very happy to add the Sayre property to the county’s growing portfolio of working farms that have been successfully protected by conservation easements, ensuring that Rock County will continue to be a Wisconsin agriculture leader.
Funding to purchase the conservation easement came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, Rock County, and supporters like you of Natural Heritage Land Trust.