Wildlife Habitat Stewards:
New in 2022, the Stearns County Soil & Water Conservation District recognizes an individual(s) or organization for outstanding accomplishments in implementing wildlife habitat to enhance and protection wildlife habitat. Managing wildlife can bring beauty, environmental benefits, improve hunting land and wildlife, along with many other benefits.
Scott and Kate Schaefers Honored for Wildlife Habitat Efforts
Sitting atop a terminal moraine overlooking the historic outwash plain of the Sauk River, surrounded by glacial erratics, narrow-leaved coneflowers, and native stiff sunflowers that dot the ridge, it's easy to see why this property holds such a special place in owners Scott and Kate Schaefers' hearts.
Homesteaded by Scott’s great-grandfather in 1861, the property has now been in the Schaefers family for four generations. When Scott and Kate acquired the farm, nearly the entire property was farmed with row-crop agriculture.
Upon enrolling the poorest cropland in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) some 20-plus years ago, they began a journey that culminated in a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) conservation easement, fulfilling the Schaefers' dream to preserve and protect this prairie gem forever.
In 2020, the Schaefers enrolled the entire farm, 260+ acres, in CREP. Their goal since acquiring the farm was always to restore habitat and preserve it in perpetuity. Early on, they recognized the importance of protecting places like this, and when they learned of the CREP program, Scott and Kate didn’t hesitate to enroll. Over the past two decades, the Schaefers have restored over 157 acres of tallgrass prairie by working with Stearns SWCD and enrolling land into CRP and now CREP. Scott and Kate decided to interseed over 100 acres of their prairie when they enrolled in CREP, utilizing a highly diverse forb mix that went well above and beyond CREP standards.
The Schaefers are also planning to interseed 47 acres of prairie next spring with an even more diverse forb mix. Scott and Kate have their tallgrass prairie on a rotational prescribed burning schedule of 3–8 years and never burn the entire prairie at a single time. This has resulted in a high-quality prairie reconstruction in a landscape with exceptionally little native grassland. When the Schaefers first enrolled in CRP, they worked with the local US Fish & Wildlife office to construct eight wetland restorations on 20 acres of drained wetland. Through CREP, Scott and Kate restored another wetland in 2022 that had long been drained on a former agricultural field. This restoration resulted in a 6-acre basin that, through the engineering design, will be highly beneficial for waterfowl.
Scott and Kate have routinely gone above and beyond program requirements to establish the highest-quality habitat possible on their land. In the spring of 2022, they worked with Stearns SWCD to plant over 5 acres of pollinator habitat through the Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) program. The Schaefers also plant 3 acres of food plots each year to provide a winter food source for wildlife. They work their food plots on a rotation of corn, soybeans, sorghum, and a small grains/brassica mix. They have also installed wood duck nesting boxes in numerous locations around the farm.
Over the years, Scott and Kate worked to increase winter thermal cover on their property by planting blocks of conifers and hardwood native shrubs in four different areas totaling 14 acres.
This was accomplished on non-cropland through conservation clubs and on cropland with Stearns County SWCD utilizing CRP. The Schaefers have also worked with Stearns SWCD to implement a field windbreak and a living snow fence through CRP for a total of about 8.5 acres. Importantly, these forestry practices connect two of the block tree plantings, providing a travel corridor for wildlife.
Scott and Kate Schaefers have been a shining example of true habitat stewards, and SWCD staff are grateful for the close working relationship that has been cultivated over the years. Thanks to their efforts, wildlife that call the Schaefers property home are thriving.