Michael and Louise Heim’s Sawyer County property is part laboratory, part enchanted forest. The couple’s 58 acres are located on a kettle moraine, where two lobes of the last continental ice sheet ground against one another around 13,000 years ago. The complex topography and soils varying within such short distances are “a horticulturist’s dream come true.” Two horticulturists’ dreams, in fact.
The Heims are both scholars of the natural world, with Mike specializing in plants ranging from trees to ferns and Louise in landscaping. Their unique ecosystem including Spring Lake Creek provides rich habitat and a haven for flora and fauna amid the challenges of a changing climate. In their woods they leave the abundant natural understory, debris, and snags (standing dead trees) for habitat and bird nesting sites.
Mike serves as a faculty member and the Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisor at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University. He loves experimenting with a vast number of plants and testing their winter hardiness while also collecting data on their assisted migration potential. He has sprouted countless fern species from spores in baby food jars, and nurtures them along in their home until they reach maturity before transplanting into their diverse forest.
Louise is attuned to the small creatures who find a home on their land. She notices the mammals and invertebrates that are often hidden and recognizes their role as the basis for all life. “There’s a whole world of small things that we either see as pests or we don’t see them at all,” said Louise. “These small things support all the big things – they provide sustenance for a large part of creation.”
Over the years, they have welcomed students of all ages to their land, from university scholars to 4-H children. They fondly recall the mud-covered kids boarding their buses with sparkling eyes and have even heard from them decades later about the impact of their visit. With development pressures in the area, they worry that future generations won’t have the same experiences or access to wild places.
“Our conservation easement is a counterpoint to the accelerating trend towards ecosystem simplification,” Mike stated. “All around us once diverse forests are being converted to single tree species monocultures, whether they be of red pine, aspen, red oak, or sugar maple. This does not bode well for regional biodiversity or the long-term health of these forests.”
Landmark Conservancy recognizes the inherent quality of certain ecological communities and strives to protect those conservation values using conservation easements. Conservation easement terms may vary, and in the case of the Heim property, will ensure the evolution of a living museum, whose exhibits will persist and evolve over time.