Recognizing extraordinary land stewardship

Oct 7, 2011
by WLJ

Ryan Fieldgrove’s family has been ranching the Wyoming land he and his family now live and work on for over 125 years. For as long as he can remember, the invasive leafy spurge has been a constant nemesis to their ranching operation until Ryan got the idea to add goats to the equation. Since then, the weed has been virtually eliminated from most of the ranch and the Fieldgroves are credited with contributing to a countywide downswing in spurge infestation. It’s innovative conservation approaches like this that helped the Fieldgroves earn the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming and, through the Leopold Conservation Award program, Sand County Foundation, along with its partners, continues to identify landowner conservationists, like the Fieldgroves, year after year.

This year, Sand County Foundation and its partners have been fortunate to meet two other families in the American West who are identifying opportunities and overcoming challenges to do great work for natural resources. The Mathewson family, who received the award in Nebraska, runs a multi-generational ranching operation in which they have practiced rotational grazing for over 30 years and now use a combination of photography and GPS to record photo points, forage composition and measurement records for several sites on the ranch. The McEndrees, located near Springfield, CO, are fourthgeneration ranchers whose soil and water management techniques have allowed native grasses and wildlife to flourish even in the face of severe drought that has plagued their region for over a decade.

It’s efforts like these, done in the spirit of a land ethic championed by Aldo Leopold, that indicate the determination, innovation and dedication that characterize agricultural families across the nation, and Sand County Foundation will continue to identify and honor them. In addition to Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado, the Leopold Conservation Award is presented in five other states. The Texas award was presented to Buddy and Ellen Temple in May of this year, and the California, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin awards will be presented later this year.

Begun in 2003, the $10,000 Leopold Conservation Award recognizes and celebrates extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation and provides a platform for agricultural families across the nation to educate the public about their crucial role in natural resources enhancement.

By the end of 2011, 44 families will have received the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award. Many of these families have been living on, working at, and enhancing attractive landscapes for generations. But, they aren’t the only landowners engaged in these efforts. We look forward to meeting, and being inspired by, many more award recipients who represent the tremendous, but all too often unrecognized, conservation work on private lands across the U.S.

For more information, see www.leopoldconservation and scientific protection of the private lands surrounding Aldo Leopold’s family farm. Sand County’s mission is to advance the use of ethical and scientifically sound land management practices and partnerships for the benefit of people and the ecological landscape. — Brent Haglund, Ph.D., Sand County Foundation

Mathewson family