Land Trust Accelerates Protection Efforts

DCLT competes with developers to protect natural resources

As Emily Wood steered her SUV into Bear Creek to ford the stream in December, backseat passenger Carrie Ehrfurth received a text, exclaimed “We closed!” and rang a cowbell she had in her backpack.

Wood, the Door County Land Trust Executive Director, was driving this reporter, Project Coordinator Ehrfurth, and Land Protection Manager Brian Forest through what will become a DCLT public nature preserve in the Town of Clay Banks. Ehrfurth had just learned about the Land Trust finalizing a separate land-protection deal near Brussels. 

“More cowbell!” Wood said, smiling.

It was a light moment from a group that takes land protection seriously and celebrates the victories. 

And, if it seems DCLT has accelerated its efforts and increased its holdings from end to end of Door County, that’s intentional.

Now is the time to protect more land, said Wood. The DCLT leaders intend to continue to complete land-protection deals at a similar pace as in 2023, when the organization added 406 acres to increase the total acreage it protects to 9,500. The organization added slightly more than 100 acres the year before.

“We are really putting our foot on the gas,” Wood said, noting that organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and The Ridges have the same sense of urgency. “We feel that we’re at an inflection point, where land protection either is going to happen now or those places will be lost forever to development and natural-resource pressure.”

To achieve that pace, the organization altered its strategy over the years, Wood said. At its founding in 1986, DCLT took in many pristine sites that were free and separated from past development and agriculture.

“It was an intentional change in strategy,” Wood said. “As the peninsula becomes more fragmented, the native ecosystems become harder to find in those large parcels, and on top of it, those very pristine lands that we protect are often the lands that we don’t push the public to.”

Door County Land Trust Executive Director Emily Wood talks about the virtues of protecting the forest and creek in the background and the planting of native plants on this former dairy pasture, as well as being financially able to quickly complete land-protection deals whenever opportunities arise. Photo by Craig Sterrett.

With the 2023 acquisition of the Bear Creek site in the town of Clay Banks, DCLT purchased partially forested land suited for hunting, fishing, hiking and a parking area, and acres that were used for crops and pasture. 

Those fallow acres have a “very high restoration potential,” Wood said, adding that the DCLT has a crew that has become excellent at transforming fields to harbor native grasses, plants and animals.

“We can put in the parking lot and all of the signage and host educational hikes there and get 20 or 30 people out on the landscape without worrying that we’re going to damage a fragile ecosystem,” Wood said. 

The heightened pace of land protection doesn’t mean DCLT has lowered its standards. Before accepting land donations or pursuing permanent easements or purchases, the land must meet several conservation targets. The Bear Creek site “checked box after box” of DCLT objectives, Wood said. 

“If a property like this is sold, it can be parceled out and developed pretty quickly,” Wood said. “Protection is not a given. It’s not a permanent thing unless people are doing it intentionally.”

With the pursuit of grant funds to protect land in the Town of Union, and the completion of two land-protection deals in the Town of Clay Banks and one in the Town of Brussels, DCLT increased its presence in southern Door County in 2023. DCLT also has four sites as far north as Washington Island and in 2022, increased its presence in the bay of Green Bay by expanding its Chambers Island Nature Preserve to 900 acres.

“We’re trying to make sure we serve all of the community of Door County,” said Cinnamon Rossman, Director of Charitable Giving.

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