Why is agriculture so important? Well, we can all point to the abundant, safe and cost effective food supply, which comes from our fine farmers and ranchers each day. However, agriculture also has a profound effect on conservation, and it is critical to maintain undeveloped, open agricultural landscapes as a part of a strategy to ensure endangered, at-risk or declining species and habitats remain in our ecology. Interestingly enough, more than 90% of at-risk species in Wisconsin exist on private land—many on farms in your community!
Currently, about 60% of all United States lands are privately-owned, and that number increases to more than 85% of land in Wisconsin! Of the privately owned lands in Wisconsin, more than 44% are owned by Wisconsin farmers, many of whom are already enrolled in conservation programs and many more who are actively managing their privately owned lands to maximize ecosystem services.
Many citizens assume that the management of ecosystems should solely be completed on publicly owned lands. However, most of the publicly owned lands are in the western states and Alaska. On public lands in Wisconsin, very few have large enough areas to maintain the diversity of species that people want to see and conserve across the state. Overall, on publicly owned lands, there are few intact ecosystems that exist at a scale to preserve all of the species that depend on these areas. On many privately owned lands, there are beautiful, incredibly intact ecosystems, and these privately owned contiguous land areas amplify these positive effects and benefits well beyond their plot lines and borders. Effective conservation strategies must consider the role of private agricultural landscapes in protecting species diversity and ecosystem services.
A tenant of conservation is continuity of the landscape. The year round maintenance of trees, shrubs, bushes, wetlands, and prairies and the contiguity of such habitat patches at the landscape scale is one of the most important factors for effective conservation of species and ecosystems. Since rural communities, especially agricultural lands, are a huge part of these landscapes, it is essential that conservation efforts occur on farmers’ lands. You should feel proud that such efforts are occurring right here in Wisconsin, maintaining the beautiful landscapes in your backyard.