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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Importance of Land Trusts (Blog Thirteen)

One of the most important things that an outdoors enthusiast can do, regardless of whether that individual is a hunter, angler, birder, hiker, camper or enjoys any number of other outdoor pursuits, is place rural property under a conservation easement through working with a land trust. I am a member of the Western Virginia Land Trust (WVLT), the New River Land Trust, (NRLT), and annually try to donate to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF).  All of these entities perform a wonderful service, as do local, regional, and state land trusts across the country.

My wife Elaine and I have placed 392 acres in Craig County under easement, and we have gained great satisfaction in knowing that even after we die or even if our heirs sell the land, the development restrictions placed on the land because of the easements will remain in effect.  The conservation easements assure that our rural land will always remain rural, something wildlife many decades from now will benefit from.
When we placed our first property under easement, we were unaware that we would receive major tax benefits from doing so and that we would even receive tax refunds from the federal and state governments because, theoretically, we made the land worth less by restricting development on it.

To us, though, rural land is always emotionally worth more than the most developed lot in a city – no matter what the bottom line says.  Local, state, and regional land trusts exist throughout the country and chances are that one exists near you.  For more information, consult the following.

Land Trust Alliance (national organization):

Monday, December 20, 2010

Everything But The Cluck (Blog Twelve)

A saying exists among those who raise pigs that people "can eat everything but the oink." For those of us who pursue turkeys, it could be said that we "use everything but the cluck."

This past Thursday, the Botetourt County school system where I teach cancelled classes because of a snow/sleet event.  As a fanatical turkey hunter, this was my opportunity to go hunting.  I was fortunate enough to kill one that morning and later my son Mark and I field dressed the bird.

We removed the breasts to grill later, the legs to turn into soup, and the neck for a future salad.  We examined the crop to find out what the bird had been eating, which included seeds and leafy vegetation.  We removed the wings so that my turkey hunting mentor, Larry Proffitt of Tennessee, could make the wing bones into turkey calls.  Larry and I hunt Northeast Tennessee every spring, and I will bring him the wings then.

All that was left of the bird was its "trunk" and feathers, and when a few days later I returned to where we worked up the bird all that remained were the feathers.  A creature or creatures (most likely
 from a list that would include raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, and bears) had paid a visit.

Later that day, Elaine fixed wild turkey leg soup - a very satisfying end to a wonderful day.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Timber Stand Improvement (Blog Eleven)

With the Christmas Holidays approaching and time off from school, I have three outdoor related objectives: punch that second Virginia fall turkey hunting tag, do some late season muzzleloader hunting with the goal of killing one more doe for the freezer, and conduct some TSI (timber stand improvement) on the 38 acres where we live.

One of the most satisfying wintertime outdoor activities that anyone - whether they are sportsmen, bird watchers, or landowners - can do is improve the wildlife habitat on the land they live on.  This is true whether the individual owns just a backyard lot or hundreds of acres.

Last winter, for example, Elaine and I cut some cedar trees and turned them into brush piles where songbirds, rabbits, and other creatures could find some shelter from the wind and cold.  The oaks and hickories where the cedars were levelled thus had more room to grow and in the future should produce more acorns and nuts.

When you are conducting TSI, not all seemingly worthless trees should be cut.  For instance, we like to leave large, standing dead trees so that woodpeckers, tufted titmice, and other cavity nesting birds can benefit.  It is also a good idea to make sure beforehand the exact species a tree is before you remove it.  This past winter, I did not have time to remove a small stand of nondescript trees that grow on the edge of our food plot.  I was glad this May that I had not removed the stand as the trees turned out to be mulberries, which, of course, produce a very tasty berry for wildlife and humans.

One of my projects this month is to thin a small grove of dogwoods that grow in the hollow adjacent to our house.  In the past, I was reluctant to cut them because dogwood berries are eaten by many animals.  But by removing several trees, the survivors will be able to expand their crowns so that fewer trees will produce more soft mast than many trees did.

Look for similar opportunities on your land this month.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Love of a Good Woman (Blog Ten)

On December 10, Elaine and I will celebrate being married 32 1/2 years.  Every year on our half-year anniversary, we go out to dinner at Coach and Four Restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia and exchange anniversary cards.  Some may think it silly for us to celebrate our anniversary twice a year, but Elaine is a woman worth celebrating, especially for being married to an outdoor writer.

Over the years, Elaine and I have taken many outdoor related trips together - many of which went less than smoothly.  There was the time in the mid 1980s on the Rapppahannock River when a torrential thunderstorm took place, the river flooded, our canoe overturned, and we spend part of an afternoon huddled on a bank hoping lightning would not strike us.

On two other occasions, our canoe overturned (both of which were my fault), and my wife was unceremoniously dumped into a river.  She never cast the proverbial stones at me.  Back in 1995, not long after we had purchased our red Dagger Legend, we were loading the boat onto our vehicle when the canoe shifted and somehow one of Elaine's fingers became caught in a rope and broken.  Elaine has never blamed me for the broken digit, but it was my fault.

Just last week, we were using our chainsaw to cut down a dead pine in our front yard when the blade became stuck in the tree and when after turning off the saw, we had to laboriously remove the blade from the hinge.  Later we decided to use a rope to "guide" the tree downward, but the rope slipped out of my hands, Elaine fell and landed on her left hand, spraining it.  Again, my sweetheart did not blame me.

A little over two years ago, Elaine was diagnosed with a virulent form of breast cancer, and it was the darkest time of our married lives.  Fortunately, she survived two rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments, and we both are very optimistic about her future.  Elaine is a determined woman.

Over the next year, I know the following will happen:
Long after dark, I will bring a deer home for us to butcher, and she will arise and help wrap the tenderloins for the freezer and not complain about doing so.
I will do something stupid while float fishing, and she will merely bite her lip.
I will ask for her to pose for pictures out in the snow, and she will bear it.
I will plan some outdoor adventure that has failure written all over it, and Elaine will sweetly talk me out of it.
She will cook all manners of game animals, fish, and wild berries, mushrooms, and nuts that I bring home and always do so cheerfully.

On our first date, we held hands, and ever since holding her hand has filled my heart with joy. Whenever Elaine sees me, she smiles. Elaine is my sweetheart and the love of a good woman has made me a better man.