The Beaver Family of Ohio: Leaving a Legacy
After five generations, Ohio's Beaver family is leaving its Marion County farm as a tallgrass prairie and oak savanna legacy for future generations to enjoy and cherish.
"It would be painful to subdivide a family farm," begins Dave Beaver, a member of the fourth generation on the land. The farm, some 300 acres, lies close to the urban sprawl reaching out from the City of Marion, the county seat, just a few miles to the northeast.
But a chance conversation between Beaver and Jim Inglis, PF Farm Bill biologist coordinator, led to a family decision to transfer the farm to the Pheasants Forever Land Trust. "Jim just happened to ask, ‘what's going on with your farm?'" said Dave.
"We were in immediate agreement," added Janis Beaver Loch, Dave's sister. Their brother, Mark, and nephew, Alex, son of the late Lamont Beaver, added their enthusiastic stamp of approval.
Inglis said that the Beaver acquisition constitutes the largest of its kind under the Clean Ohio Fund, a bond program that includes provisions for agricultural easements and green space conservation.
The other great news is that this project could expand. Dave Beaver is half-owner of 159 adjoining acres. "We're trying to make it happen," said Dave. The challenge is finding more matching funds.
"We feel good about it, that it's going to be saved for wildlife habitat for future generations to enjoy," said Dave of the land transfer. The family donated 15 percent of the value back to PF to manage and maintain the farm. "Our ancestors would be proud of this decision."
Harvey Beaver's Legacy
Indeed, the story begins with those who went before, starting in 1913 when great-grandfather Harvey Beaver bought the first piece of land. In 1917 he added a second piece, calling the combined property Scioto Valley Farm, a name that still hangs on the barn.
The farm's name demonstrates that Harvey Beaver knew where his feet were planted, that he understood almost a century ago what a watershed is all about. Harvey Beaver had a true sense of place; he saw a connectedness between farm and watershed.
Next in the family line came grandfather Clyde Beaver, who in the 1950s was installing sod waterways to conserve the soil. He was at the forefront of land stewardship principles espoused by such great land ethicists as Aldo Leopold.
Vernon Beaver was the father of Dave, Mark and Janis. "This is where our dad was born," noted Dave, referring to the solidly built 1933 farmstead. The original home burned down when a cooking fire in "grandma's wood stove" got out of hand.
"Our dad was a math and science teacher," notes Janis. "He was a big conservationist." Adds Dave: "He instilled in us the conservation ethic." And he applied that ethic as he also worked the Scioto Valley soil.
Vernon passed on his land ethic to Dave. After earning a college degree in wildlife management, Dave went on to spend a 22-year career in the U.S. Army. Then he returned home to teach biology at nearby Elgin High School. Before retiring from teaching, he envisioned and then developed the 50-acre Sandusky Plains Environmental Education Center Schoolyard. The Schoolyard was part of a joint program of PF and the National Wildlife Federation. It includes wetlands, a pond and trails amid tallgrass prairie - all a former dumpsite. (See PFJ Spring 2006).
The Schoolyard is a haven for wildlife, wild plant communities and high school students, some of whom simply use the "schoolyard" as a place to walk and take time out and refocus. In a happy coincidence, the property lies adjacent to the 7,000-acre Big Island State Wildlife Area.
When Dave finished his Army career in 1992, he and his late brother assumed the crop farming. Lamont died two years later, but Dave continued for 11 years before renting out the cropland. He and his wife, Misop, are planning to sell the homestead where they currently reside. This will be the last year cropping the old farm.
The rest of the farm already has been rolled into the conservation mix, including grass filter strips, sod waterways, CP33 field borders under the Bobwhite Quail initiative, a federal Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) wetland and the Scioto Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
Other partners in the Beaver project include the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Marion County PF Chapter.
PF's Forever Land Trust will hold title to the farm and will manage the land in cooperation with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The Division will annex it into the 7,522 acres Big Island Wildlife Area.
"Thanks to the Beaver Family and partners, this 300 acres will be open to public hunting," said Doug Bensman, regional wildlife biologist for PF and Quail Forever. "We all know that hunting accessibility is a concern of hunters, and the Ohio Grassroots Conservation Campaign is addressing this need."
Bensman noted that with the nearby 7,500-acre Killdeer Plains State Wildlife Area a few miles north, the area has become "one of the wildlife and hunting gems of Ohio." Marion County also has 12,000 CRP acres.
The farm's existing prairie portions are alive with such notable species as dense blazing star, rattlesnake master, compass plant and royal catchfly, an endangered species. Dave said the catchfly is the only red flower in Ohio prairie.
The compass plant is likewise striking, reaching to seven feet high and more. Dave noted that it is so called because "its leaves move north and south to catch the sun." His knowledge of the prairie and prairie lore came in part from Aldo Leopold's essay on the compass plant, or cutleaf silphium.
"What a thousand acres of silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked," wrote Leopold.
To expand the farm's prairie, Dave has planted Roundup-ready soybeans so the field will be clear when it comes time to restore it to tallgrass prairie. In addition, some $70,000 in federal stimulus money is being used from the USFWS to restore an oak savanna, plant 140 acres to prairie and restore a couple of wetlands.
Native oak savanna consisted of burr oak with prairie grasses beneath. The system was maintained by periodic wildfires, which maintained the "openings" beneath the oak canopy. But control of wildfires during the agricultural era has led to woody plants crowding out the prairie component of the oak savanna. PF's Inglis noted that removal of the woody understory will release the seed bank that has been shaded out for decades.
Bensman said the plan is to leave white, pin and shingle oak along with the mature burr oaks, some of which exceed 150 years in age, plus some shagbark hickory and black walnut trees.
"We'll put a lot of fire in there the first five years." Work on the oak savanna was set to begin last fall. In all, about 30 percent of the canopy trees will remain, according to Bensman.
"I have a feeling that we will be coming back to this project for generations as an example of the great vision of landowners like the Beavers and our conservation partners," Inglis concluded.
Dave Graham, chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said the Beaver project sets a great example for conservation in the Buckeye State. "It's great we're restoring some of Ohio's rare tallgrass prairie and oak savanna in partnership with Pheasants Forever. The Beaver restoration is a great success story for the future of Ohio."