Learning from mistakes

Mutter transforms childhood regret into conservation
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Leader Photo by Kelly Hogan John Mutter points to his Siberian Crab Apple tree, which provides food for robins. He has also planted chestnut trees, red and white oak trees, and hickory trees as havens for birds

A regret from John Mutter’s childhood continues to shape his actions and worldview decades later.

At the age of 5, Mutter’s family moved from Racine to Shawano. Mutter said he found the transition from city to country exciting, and he began to develop an interest in hunting, both from men who would tell exciting hunting tales at his parents’ tavern and from attending movies that glorified big game hunters.

He and his brother, William, received BB guns for Christmas in 1954. Mutter took to the woods during the following summer and took down any animal he could find.

As he grew older, Mutter began to regret having killed so many birds.

“You can’t go back and change the past,” Mutter said, “but you can learn from it. Now, I work towards protecting birds and wildlife to help make up for my mistakes.”

Mutter bought 80 acres of land near the town of Lunds in 1966, and he has been implementing conservation efforts on the property ever since by providing wildlife with food, water and habitat through numerous projects.

He has built about 25 birdhouses around the property and adds two or three more each year. This provides bluebirds and swallows with shelter. He also refuses to cut down any hollow trees because some parts may provide good conditions for cavity nesting birds. Mutter always prefers to let nature take its course when given the chance, he said.

Mutter spent three summers digging a pond to provide drinking water for wildlife. He also has a few brush and compost piles composed of leaves, bark, grass, plants, egg shells and sawdust. These conditions are suitable to grow worms, which help feed the birds that depend on them.

“One of the things most important to me is helping feed nature. I kind of live for it,” Mutter said. “Without humans, wild animals would keep populations in check. Humans throw off the natural balance of life, but can act in many ways to restore it.”

Mutter said his favorite way to provide food for wildlife is through planting trees. He works with many different varieties, including Siberian Crab Apple trees, chestnut trees, red and white oak trees and hickory trees.

“The trees give me an excuse to go out and be into nature,” Mutter said. “Someone once asked me how I knew so much about nature, and I answered that the only way to really come to know and appreciate it is to go out and just observe.”

Mutter also channels his love for nature through writing. He has published numerous books, many about nature and wildlife, as well as a recent autobiography.