On Firm Footing
When Mike and Jane LaMair bought a piece of land in southern Iowa in the late 1990s, Jane half-jokingly said to her husband, “You just like doggy land. How come you never buy good farmland?”
The answer probably lies in the fact that the challenge of restoring the landscape is a lot more fun on the “doggy land.”
Jane passed away in 2016, but the Des Moines-based couple spent a lot of time enjoying and caring for that 475 acres of rolling land in Clarke County.
Over the past 25 years, the LaMairs have constructed ponds, filled in and seeded down gullies that had formed due to erosion and planted native grasses and forbs, creating a foundation for restoration. The property now consists of equal parts mature woodland, hay ground and prairie. The timber contains oak, hickory, walnut, hackberry and cottonwood, the hay ground is being raised organically and the prairie is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The stewardship of this place has been a labor of love, born out of an appreciation for the outdoors that Mike inherited from his father.
Mike first began hunting with his father at the age of five. When he was 12, right at the end of World War II, he went on a hunting trip with his father and uncle to Canada. By then he was hooked, and his love of the outdoors has continued ever since.
Mike has been passing that appreciation on to his large — and growing — family. He has seven children, 19 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The farm has been a gathering place for the family, perfect for swimming, canoeing, hiking and hunting. Mike still spends a few days a week down on the farm, doing a little more playing than working these days.
In 2020, Mike decided to permanently protect this special place by donating a conservation easement to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF). The easement allows the land to remain in private ownership while protecting the conservation features of the land, which INHF will monitor on a yearly basis. The agreement ensures that this place will forever be a haven for wildlife and help to protect the water quality of nearby Squaw Creek. It will also allow for continued sustainable grazing and haying, and help buffer the adjacent 40-acre Green Pine Wildlife Area, and nearby 704-acre Heritage Hills Wildlife Management Area addition that INHF helped protect in 2018.
“The LaMairs have done an excellent job of stewarding this land and we’re excited to partner with them to make sure it is permanently protected,” said Erin Van Waus, INHF conservation easement director. “Not only does this ensure the wildlife habitat will always be there, it’s also an important link in the patchwork of protected land in the area.”
This isn’t the first time the LaMairs have used a conservation easement to permanently protect a special place. In 2001, they donated an easement to Polk County Conservation on land near Runnells. Later, they protected family land in Missouri with a conservation easement held by Ozark Regional Land Trust.
“These might not be places that are attractive to development, but you never know what is going to happen in 50 years,” Mike said. “I just always wanted to see it protected.”
The couple’s connection to INHF dates back decades as well. Mike and Jane started supporting INHF in 1983 — four years after the organization was founded — and Mike served on the board of directors from 1994-2014.