The distinctive rattle of the timber rattler most times is a sign that you’re headed down the wrong path, but for Bill and Dawn Farrell of Winona County, that sound sent them down a path that ended up with them creating a complex of protected lands for future generations. Recently the Farrell’s protected their land with a conservation easement through the Minnesota Land Trust, protecting it from development forever.
“It all started with me a few years ago,” says Bill. “I have a rattlesnake den on my property, so the DNR contacted me about protecting my land. I asked if I could invite some of my neighbors to talk about it, and in the last 10 years my neighbors have protected their land through the Land Trust. Took me longer to make up my mind, I guess!”
The Timber Rattlesnake is a threatened species in Minnesota, and one that relies on intact bluffland habitat to survive. The DNR has been working to identify sources of the snake to ensure it is protected as more and more of our bluffs are developed.
“Wildlife doesn’t know boundaries, so you can’t work in isolation,” says Jaime Edwards of the DNR who worked with Bill and his neighbors on protecting the timber rattler. “We were doing habitat work on Bill’s property, and the neighbors started seeing results and getting interested. So I put them in touch with the Minnesota Land Trust.”
Since that fateful meeting 10 years ago, hundreds of acres in the area have been protected through the Minnesota Land Trust, meaning a complex of protected lands has sprung up where there are few existing protected public and state lands.
But the Farrell property isn’t just important as wildlife habitat; it’s also the start of Looney Creek. “Protection of this whole watershed starts right there on Bill’s property,” says Jaime. “Being able to have protection on his land is pretty significant for water quality.”
Nick Bancks, program manager at the Minnesota Land Trust agrees. “This watershed protects drinking water for cities in the area like Winona and Houston, as well as important trout streams in the area. With the strong development pressures in the area, the time is now to protect this important resource for all of us.”
By protecting their land with a conservation easement, the property is still owned by each property owner, but future development is limited. Beyond their memories, protecting the property has real benefits for the water quality and plants and animals of greater Winona County.
“I hope that landowners realize that they can play a significant role in conservation, and that they don’t have to sell their land to the state for that, because there are other options for protection,” says Jaime. “This project provided us a unique opportunity to do some landscape-scale conservation, without public ownership. They’re having a big impact on the ground!”