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Who would do that?

Ranger Steve

A woman drove up the drive and started to back out. I opened the door and motioned for her to return. She said she was looking for Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary but this is a private residence. I said yes on both accounts. 

“I am Ranger Steve, the sanctuary manager and ecologist that lives here. This is our private property where we allow visitors to experience nature.”

She said, “Who would do that with their private property?”

People post property with no trespassing or keep out signs. It means this is mine and others are not welcome. People have sound reasons because people might hunt without permission, dig up plants, or otherwise despoil the land instead of respecting the rights of plants, animals, and the human residents. 

As a young person, I decided to do good for others and share. People farm their property raising livestock and crops for a living. To support them we buy produce at the farmers market and the grocery instead of raising them here. Farmers make money from animal and plant crops to sustain families. It is my hope that each landowner will set aside at least ten percent of their property to sustain a natural healthy sustainable world. 

I do not think that is adequate so at Ody Brook we leave 80 to 90 percent of the land wild where we manage habitat diversity to support as many species as possible. Many people own property where they allow it to thrive naturally. Periodically they might harvest timber selectively to help pay property taxes. 

My naturalist career did not provide a large income but we were able to purchase 61 acres over the course of living here for 41 years by buying property from neighbors. My neighbor wanted me to protect and enhance nature by acquiring her floodplain that was not suitable for farming. She wanted to keep it until her death. In the last year of life, she needed money to live in a care facility and sold me land. Her tillable land and home were sold to others. She was pleased knowing I would be a good steward caring for the land. 

We lease seven acres for tilling, but the income does not cover the taxes. My pension and social security allows us to live simply to enhance biodiversity. College interns help manage the sanctuary to develop skills for employment advantage. High school students assist with habitat management labor to meet our mission of “biodiversity enhancement.” 

Non-curable multiple myeloma cancer was expected to take me years ago. I continue to survive to write this column, maintain the sanctuary, and share it with people, plants, and animals to promote a sustainable environment for present and future generations. Retirement investments were used to purchase the property. Pension and social security make it possible to live simply. Mostly staying home allows me a good life with my health limitations and I explore the sanctuary daily. I tire quickly and have benches along trails for resting.

We have not charged people to explore natural wonders. Donations and help are appreciated. Interpretive signs line trails. Fallen trees are removed from paths as are exotic plants that cause harm to native ecosystem species. 

Most people do not donate and it is not required for access. Some volunteer time with projects. As my health and abilities decline, it becomes more challenging to do the physical work. I have a 10-pound lifting limit because of brittle cancer bones and have experienced ten fractures. The cancer and chemo tire me and I need frequent naps. Being tired, weak, and brittle is no different from what other seniors experience. We all keep plugging along and doing our best to stay productive for the benefit of community members and family.

For me, being productive is helping enhance living conditions for plants and animals that share the property and being willing to allow people to come learn about nature’s biodiversity that sustains human life. That answers the question “who would open their private property to others?” I hope you will do that with your property and set aside at least 10 percent for native wild species survival. Donate to land conservancies, nature centers, and conservation organizations. It will help economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Be kind and giving. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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