Susquehanna County


Auburn Township • 50 Acres

The Zygmunt Property
By George Smith
The Times Leader newspaper

Appeared in the Times Leader newspaper.
August 12, 2001
Reprinted with permission.

Ed and Amber Zygmunt wear the badge of “conservationist” with pride and sincerity. They walk the walk, and they talk the talk. “I put my land where my mouth is,” Ed Zygmunt said with a smile. The Zygmunts have spent countless hours of their adult lives volunteering time for conservation work on the local, state and national level. They practice what they preach, as they are in the process of finishing work on their 50-acre Susquehanna County farm – including a century-old farmhouse – that has become a landowner model for modern conservation and wildlife management practices.

The farm is called “Perennial Acres.” The name is appropriate, as it is now protected from subdivision forever. Formerly a 24-year resident of Avoca, Ed is the Chesapeake Bay Technician for the Wyoming County Conservation District and an avid outdoorsman. He is one of the National Wildlife Federation’s state affiliate representatives from the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Inc. Amber works as a framer in an art shop and enjoys bird watching, canoeing, and gardening. Collectively, they pooled their talents, expertise, convictions and hard work to create the haven that is “Perennial Acres.”

“We wanted to create a model for the landowner. We wanted to prove that there is the technical and financial assistance out there to improve water quality and bolster wildlife habitat on private land,” Zygmunt said. To safeguard the re-assembled 50-acres of original farmland the Zygmunts purchased in four parcels, they secured it with a conservation easement through the North Branch Land Trust.

The easement ensures that the contiguous acreage will not be subdivided. “A lot of people don’t understand what the conservation easement means. We retain ownership of the land. We retain the right to sell it. “What we ‘lost’ is the right to subdivide it,” Zygmunt said. And what they gained were significant income tax credits and the peace of mind that their land will be free from development forever.

“The deal was sweetened when a neighbor enrolled his 100-acre farm into Susquehanna County’s Farmland Preservation Program. “Now these 150 contiguous acres will always remain open space,” Zygmunt said. Restoring the run-down farmhouse, built in 1860, was a top priority. It now has an attached garage fashioned from the old kitchen and a new sun room — amenities the old farmhouse lacked. “We try to make it as country and as energy efficient as possible,” said Zygmunt of the farmhouse that now has oil heat supplemented by a wood stove. Another top priority was the dirt township road that dissects the property and passes in front of the farmhouse. The road represents an environmental success story. “It’s gratifying as a sportsman to see the benefits of past legislation I helped work to enact,” Zygmunt said.

He explained that sportsmen’s groups such as Ducks Unlimited and the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Inc. worked with mainstream environmental groups to demonstrate the impact sediment pollution from the water runoff from dirt roads has on streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

“This sediment pollution was funneling downhill into a little stream. After a thunderstorm, the stream would run chocolate brown. “And we wonder why the Susquehanna River is muddy?” Zygmunt said. A grader was used to alter the slope of the road. Sheet water runoff was diverted into a field, which now serves as a natural buffer and filter. Pipes lower on the slope divert channeled stormwater into a wetland. As a result, ground water levels are recharged with every storm and sediment runoff is minimal.

“I as a landowner allowed these improvements on my land. We are using vegetation and the wetland to filter the sediment that used to run into the stream,” Zygmunt said. The project cost $17,000. The work was performed by Auburn Township and paid for with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Dirt and Gravel Road Pollution Prevention Program.

As a sportsman, Zygmunt is proud of the 15-acre wetland that he expanded. As a nature lover, Amber enjoys the wildlife it attracts. The 2-acre expansion is an outcome of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s wetland replacement program. This program creates wetlands to replace those destroyed by development elsewhere in the state. “Ten months ago this was a corn field,” Zygmunt said, pointing to boggy, water-filled potholes that attract muskrats, frogs, waterfowl and songbirds. The wetland project tied in nicely to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation/Ducks Unlimited Habitat Stewardship Program.

The program helps landowners reserve marginal pastureland with financial incentives called “conservation credits.” For every acre of buffer land a property owner excludes from livestock, the program will pay for the installation of the required fencing as well as an average of $1,000 per acre.

The money comes in the form of credits that can be applied to other conservation work needed on the farm. The program will also pay for tree plantings in the excluded area. Technical assistance for the field improvements was part of a Soil Conservation Plan designed by the local field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The service also helped with what is called the WHIP, or Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program.

In the next few years, the Zygmunts plan to convert a small hay field to native wildflowers, perform a field border cut to create habitat for small game, and plant fruit trees as wildlife food sources. “We already have an area reserved for monarch butterflies,’ Zygmunt said, referring to an exclosure in the center of the field where milkweed plants favored by the butterflies thrive.

The Zygmunts also worked with the state Bureau of Forestry to formulate a forest management plan for a small woodlot they have agreed to manage for the benefit of wildlife. The plan calls for the culling of less desirable species to allow sunlight to reach younger mast-producing trees, planting of new trees, leaving dead and decaying trees for den and nesting habitat, and installing deer exclusion measures to promote forest regeneration.

While all these projects were underway, Amber worked tirelessly to create natural habitat for wildlife in the backyard. She transformed a sterile half-acre yard into a haven for birds, butterflies and other wildlife by providing the four elements that backyard wildlife needs to survive: food, water, shelter, and space to raise young.

As a result of Amber’s work, the backyard filled with daisies, day lilies, rhododendrons and mountain laurel is among about 28,000 others nationwide certified under the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program.

Amber said all the hard work at the homestead was worth the effort. “It’s important to keep open space and not have it developed,” she explained. Her husband agrees. “All this gives me peace of mind. I put my land where my mouth is,” Zygmunt said.

Ed and Amber Zygmunt say there is an important lesson to be learned from their experiences creating farmland and backyard habitat that is friendly to wildlife and the environment. “Without the technical and financial assistance that was available to us, our conservation story would not be possible,” Ed Zygmunt said. “For instance, every county has a Conservation District. If money is not available for a particular project, the technical assistance certainly is.”

What follows is a list of organizations the Zygmunts turned to for assistance in developing conservation-oriented, wildlife-friendly land management practices.

North Branch Land Trust: (570) 696-5545
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection: (570) 826-2511
Pennsylvania Department of Forestry: (570) 963-4561
Chesapeake Bay Foundation/Ducks Unlimited: (717) 234-5550 and
National Wildlife Federation: 1-800-822-9919 Luzerne County Conservation District: 674-7991

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