Feature photo of Lindsey Wuelfing on her horse Kokamoe riding in the Ruby Valley. Photo by August Schield.

Leopold Conservation Award applications due July 1, 2019

“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”

-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Across the Treasure State, farmers and ranchers spend their days doing right by the land. As they produce our food, they care for the soil and maintain our clean water — all while dealing with fluctuating commodity prices, changing weather patterns and increasing costs of production. Needless to say, it’s a difficult and often thankless lifestyle, but one that many continue to do with the utmost pride, determination and commitment.

For the first time, we in Montana have the opportunity to recognize and honor these hard-working folks with the renowned Leopold Conservation Award.

The Leopold Conservation Award Program, run through Sand County Foundation, celebrates farmers and ranchers who voluntarily and actively implement good conservation practices on their working landscapes. Every year, each participating state honors a producer with the award. The recipients receive $10,000, as well as some hard-earned media attention highlighting their management practices.

“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are at the forefront of a movement by America’s farmers and ranchers to simultaneously achieve economic and environmental success,” said Kevin McAleese, the president of Sand County Foundation. “The award inspires other landowners by example and provides a platform for agricultural leaders to be recognized as conservation ambassadors by the general public.”

This particular conservation award is part of Sand County Foundation’s larger mission to support voluntary stewardship of working lands. At the cornerstone of their efforts lies the premise that collaboration, incentives, freedom and personal responsibility — rather than litigation — lead to better business practices and longer lasting improvements to land and water.

As each landowner has the right to perform good stewardship practices, so too does each state have the right to implement this award program. Local groups, businesses and governments must first choose to bring the Leopold Conservation Award to their state. They then must work together to fund it. Since the Capps Ranch in Colorado earned the first Leopold Conservation Award in 2003, local groups in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New England, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin have implemented the program. The award represents a marker of pride amongst the ag community, and now we in Montana can share in that pride.

“To a family, receiving the Leopold Conservation Award was a huge honor,”  said Utah rancher and 2010 award recipient Brent Tanner. “To think that someone outside of the ranching community would look at what we’re doing and recognize that we have been stewards of this piece of property, that the environmental practices that we have put into place over generations are worthy of recognition, that really meant something to our family.”

In Montana, the Rangeland Resources Committee, run through Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), initiated the steps to bring this award here. Stacey Barta of the Rangeland Resources Committee partnered with the Department of Agriculture, Governor Steve Bullock’s office, and nearly a dozen other local groups to raise the $30,000 needed to start the program.

We at Prairie Populist are thankful for these efforts. Throughout Montana, our innovative producers understand how their actions impact the health of the land — and in turn, how the health of the land impacts their way of life. They do what’s right by the land, knowing that it could make their operations more resilient, both financially and ecologically.

Our farmers and ranchers are leaders in the field of conservation and they deserve recognition for their hard work.

Applying for the Leopold Conservation Award:

Anyone can nominate a qualified farmer or rancher. Producers can also nominate themselves. Applicants should, generally speaking:

  • Practice responsible, long-term land management that reflects their specific location.
  • Maintain a healthy landscape because of current and previous management practices.
  • Participate in their community and willingly teach, share and educate others on their practices.
  • Try new techniques, adapt to new conditions and learn from previous failures and successes.

The application is available online. It should be postmarked by July 1, 2019 and mailed to:

Leopold Conservation Award
c/o Stacey Barta, Montana DNRC
1539 11th Avenue
P.O. Box 201601
Helena, MT 59620

According to Barta, the top three recipients will likely be announced during the upcoming Montana Range Tour in Harlowton on September 5th and 6th. At the time of this article’s publication, the intention is to announce Montana’s 2019 recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award during the spring of 2020. Stay tuned for updates.

Additional Resources:

  • To view the general application criteria, click HERE.
  • To view the Montana application for the Leopold Conservation Award, click HERE.
  • To learn more about previous award winners, click HERE.

-Amanda Garant

Updated June 10, 2019 at 4pm

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