Ohio's Foremans Save Their Land for Future Generations
Ask Al Foreman why, deep down, he wanted to see his land be among the first properties enrolled in the new Forever Land Trust program of Pheasants Forever, and you won't get a quick answer.
As I sat with the 59-year-old Foreman, he stared past me from his kitchen table and out the window to his land deep in Union County of west-central Ohio. He is looking far away, ignoring the crutches at his side.
"I've been on this land all my life," he begins. "I enjoy it. I wish I could get back at it more than I do," adds Foreman, who was born Charles Allen, but who sticks simply with Al. A lifelong farmer, he has been forced by illness to spend too much time in his kitchen and three afternoons a week on kidney dialysis.
"I look across the road, I see all those houses. I see all that farmland going to waste." It is too much for a man to absorb when the land has been his life," he laments.
What Foreman sees is nearly a half-mile of six-acre ex-urban homes. They represent the remains of a neighbor's farm, land Foreman has known and seen produce crops - forced to sheriff 's sale by economics and subdivided to feed the real estate appetites of folks who want to live the country life, but be close to and work in urban areas. It is an all too familiar tale of rampant urban sprawl, of the conversion of productive farm-land and valuable wildlife uplands.
Foreman didn't want the same fate for his own land, a prime 100- acre parcel of wooded bottomland and old CRP fields with a picture book chuckling stream, Rush Creek, running through it on a northwest-southeast diagonal.
But at the same time, the reality and expense of a longterm illness confronted Foreman. He and his wife, Gayna, had no children and needed to guarantee their income in their remaining years.
They found the answer to their dilemma in the new PF Forever Land Trust. The Foremans also became one of the first contributors of land to the Grassroots Conservation Campaign. This Campaign is a strategic initiative by PF to accelerate the organization's ability to conserve and ehance wildlife resources through philanthropic efforts.
After three years of hard work by the Foremans, their friends in the Union County, Ohio, Chapter of Pheasants Forever and state and national PF staff, the Foreman farmnow is one of the first two in the country to be enrolled in PF's Forever LandTrust. The other is inMinnesota.
Al and Gayna's land will be conserved as a showpiece of prime uplands and bottomland, home to a myriad of wild plants - including the unusual and striking Turk's cap lily - and an array of game and non-game wildlife, from white-tailed deer and wild turkey to a colorful array of songbirds. And even some of those gaudy, long-tailed birds some folks call ringnecks!
"It's a unique parcel with a stream down the middle," said Ohio's Jim Inglis, PF Farm Bill biologist coordinator. "And there are wild birds there, too."
Three Years In the Making
Three years ago, the Foreman saga began with Inglis when he received a phone call from Delynn Kale, then president of the Union County PF chapter. "He said a landowner wanted to conserve some property," the PF biologist said, adding, "When Al came to me, we didn't quite know where we were going."
About the same time, the last funding cycle was under way for a $400 million bond issue known as Clean Ohio, which allotted some money for farmland preservation. Yet, the funds dangled like highhanging fruit- out of reach.
"I've known Al all my life," said Kale. To which his PF partner and pal Jon Davis quickly adds, "and Al liked what PF was doing. He's got 47 acres in riparian habitat and it's really nice."
While Foreman and his family once farmed 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, the 53 tillable acres of his own plot, which he bought in 1970, have been enrolled in CRP since 1987 under the first Farm Bill.
"I knew we could not have the land willed to the county PF chapter," said Kale, "but we didn't want it getting away from us." Until just last January, PF did not hold, and had no legal way, to hold deeds. The creation of the Forever LandTrust changed all that.
At the same time, several PF chapters had been working with the Clean Ohio program; and, in the end, an application was made to acquire the Foreman farm for the Forever Land Trust.
It all seems so easy on paper now, but the first time the PF group applied for a Clean Ohio grant, their application wasn't accepted. In the second round of funding, Foreman's project got the nod.
Now, the Foremans have achieved long-term financial security. They were allowed to set aside six of their 100 acres for the family homestead, where they can live surrounded by the land they love, land now securely in the PF Forever Land Trust.
Inglis noted that in the Foremans' case, PF got in before the proverbial final episode: the Clean Ohio funding ran out this year. Another $200 million renewal of the successful state programis under consideration, but in the meantime PF and the Union County chapter will be out shopping for othermatching funds, such as federal grants, with which to build and expand upon the Foreman property.
"We're very proud of the Foreman's vision and leadership as it relates to PF's Grassroots Conservation Campaign," said David Bue, PF's Vice President of Development. "Not only will their gift leave a legacy for future generations, it also serves as a great example for others to follow as they assess family estate planning opportunities to leave a conservation legacy."
Inglis said the idea is to build on the Foreman's land base in Ohio by protecting surrounding lands. Wildlife does better with large blocks of land. Thus, the Forever Land Trust is about strategic land acquisitions, and Ohio is at ground zero in terms of need.
"Ohio is losing farm ground faster than most states due to urban sprawl." Adds Kale, "There are golden opportunities around here." He goes on to describe the rich, sprawling Rush Creek watershed, which flows from Ohio's Logan County through Union and Hardin counties into Marion County, where it enters the massive Scioto River watershed of central and southern Ohio.
Now that the Foreman property is securely in PF's hands and the Foremans' financial future is assured, the Union County PF chapter and state PF team are rolling up their sleeves to do some habitat improvement work at the site.
The land has been in CRP for 21 years, but in terms of habitat quality, it is considered "burned out," Inglis noted. That means the habitat is degraded by fescue grass, a lack of diversity and is rank (i.e. too thick and needs to be burned to restore vitality). The plan is to convert such patches into a solid diversity of reestablished prairie grasses such as big bluestem and switch grass and wildflowers such as black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower.
"We're going to make this a demonstration area not only for other farmers in the county, but also for conservation workers and leaders from around the region," Inglis noted.
The Union County Chapter also plans to work with private land biologists from the Ohio Division of Wildlife to hold youth hunts on the Foreman land. Union County PF already has one of the most successful annual youth hunts in the state, second only to the nationally recognizedWood/ Lucas Chapter of PF in northwest Ohio, with 70 to 80 youths annually involved.
"These youth will grow up someday and will purchase their own ground and conserve their wildlife too," said Kale. Beyond hunts, Inglis said that PF plans to design youth work-days on the land, with Ringnecks (PF youth members) building bluebird boxes and trails, planting trees and shrubs and investing "a little sweat equity in the land."
In looking back at their accomplishments, it appears that the PF team met its challenges. "It's all about the landowner and what PF has to offer," summed up Davis, who worked hard as the detail man in assembling the Foreman package.
Added Foreman: "I wouldn't have transferred ownership if it was going to be commercially developed. I wanted to keep it in conservation. I hunted till I couldn't do it any more. I've lived around Rush Creek practically all of my life. As a boy, I used to walk the creek and fish a bit before I'd go to school."
Now, Foreman's cherished memories will be preserved and others will have the chance to make their own dreams come true.
For Kale and company, this is just the beginning. "We have to impress upon other people that this is something they can do too; that they can achieve what Al and Gayna have."