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Guest Opinions

Sand County Foundation Proud of Wyo Partnership, Conservation Success Stories

Written by Guest Editorial
    From the heights of the Wind Rivers to the expanses of the High Plains, Wyoming ranchers continue to produce not only high quality livestock, but also conservation. Sand County Foundation, through its Leopold Conservation Award, strives to highlight the conservation efforts put forth by leading agricultural producers across the country. All too often ranchers and farmers are criticized as abusers of the land rather than praised as conservationists who continually seek to make conservation improvements.
    Private landowners combine environmental sustainability with economic success.  They are the engines that drive modern conservation improvement. There is no shortage of these landowners in Wyoming, which makes us excited and proud to be heading into a fourth consecutive, successful year in our partnership with EnCana Oil & Gas USA and Wyoming Stock Growers Association as part of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program.  We present the Leopold Conservation Award to Wyoming individuals and families who demonstrate enduring and outstanding conservation leadership. These people have made decisions, often difficult, to incorporate conservation into their operations out of their own personal sense of right and wrong.  
    Aldo Leopold wrote, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” He believed that farmers and ranchers were best suited to understand how to nurture the land that gives so much back to them. His perspective is as important today as it was during the 1930s and 1940s. Agricultural lands are in danger of encroaching development and need to be managed for profit and conservation achievement. One simply needs to look at the three previous winners of the Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming to realize that improvements to grassland, water quality and wildlife habitat can, indeed, go hand in hand with a successful ranching business. These agricultural producers are a credit to themselves and a lesson to be learned elsewhere in the state and nation.
    The 2006 Wyoming winner, Barlow Livestock Inc., is a family owned and operated ranch located 20 miles west of Gillette. It was started in 1898 by L.H. Barlow. Barlow Livestock Inc. is owned by Glenn and Joy Barlow, who operate the ranch with Glenn’s mother, Gertrude, and their children, Duce and Trey.
     The Barlow family believes in carrying out ranch tasks in a manner that suits and complements the surrounding environment. They implement stewardship practices such as matching the genetics of their cattle to the environment in which they live in order to utilize natural forage.  They employ a cell grazing and water pipeline system to lower the risk of overgrazing.
    Paul and Catherine Kukowski’s Golden Willow Ranch near Sheridan won the Wyoming award in 2007. The Kukowskis’ many conservation practices keep their operation economically and environmentally sustainable. One major project was installation of a water delivery system. This allowed a change in livestock grazing patterns, which enabled them to withstand drought conditions without drastically reducing herd size. As a consequence, native plant life, riparian areas, and wildlife habitat were all seen to improve. Their ranch now shows growing populations of mule deer, pronghorn, elk, and many kinds of birds.
    This year’s winner, Norm and Barbara Pape, along with their sons Fred and David and their families of Pape Ranches, near Daniel, emphasize grazing management and manipulate sagebrush to increase forage production for cattle and wildlife. The family also uses fencing to maintain naturally occurring windbreaks.  And to allow for the passage of wildlife, the Papes participate in a program with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and Wyoming Department of Transportation to install wildlife friendly fencing along U.S. Highway 191.
    This year’s Leopold Conservation Award winner, Rocky and Nancy Foy and their family’s Foy Ranch, near Glendo, are conservation pioneers, always looking for ways to better utilize the resources available to them as well as leave the ranch in better condition for the next generation. For example, the Foys implemented an effective grazing plan that maximizes carbon storage and results in tradable carbon credits. They provided critical leadership in the formation of the Glendo Wind Energy Association to harness clean power while preserving open space. And they were among the first to use goat power to help manage increasing brush cover. In addition to sound conservation, these projects have helped sustain the ranching operations economically, as well.
     The Barlows, Kukowskis, Papes and Foys have a lot in common. They believe that conservation plays a vital role in agriculture. They have a deep sense of responsibility to take care of the land to the best of their abilities. They also are leaders in their respective communities and are committed to agricultural education. So, how can this responsible approach to agriculture be expanded? One major part of the answer is communication. Landowners must have the ability to freely exchange ideas with one another. Sand County Foundation is working to make this possible through our award program.
    Since its inception in 2003, 24 families have won the Leopold Conservation Award in seven states: California, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. We believe that one of the most critical outcomes of the Leopold Conservation Award is that it gives landowners a forum to discuss conservation and agricultural issues within their respective states. In October of this year we expanded to a nationwide approach.
    Sand County Foundation brought together eleven Leopold Conservation Award winning families, including Paul and Catherine Kukowski, for the “Generations on the Land” landowner symposium at Texas A&M University. The symposium provided these award winning families with opportunities to share their stories and philosophies of land management and conservation with other landowners and students. Discussion topics, which affected all of the landowners regardless of their geographic location, ranged from conservation easements to death taxes, from private property rights to carbon credits, and from ethics to water.
    The discussion was robust, and, I think, went a long way in advancing the idea of a land ethic in agriculture. We plan to repeat the symposium in another location in 2010.  Until then we will continue to seek out and recognize those families who understand that conservation has a rightful place in agriculture.
    The Leopold Conservation Award honors those who are doing “good work.” By shining a bright light on an individual or family’s accomplishments each year, we also recognize the good work of all of the families in Wyoming and nationwide whose love and dedication for the land goes, all too often, unnoticed.
    As a reader of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, you likely know someone who deserves to be recognized in this manner. I ask that you take the time to honor their good work by nominating them for a Leopold Conservation Award in 2009. You will be doing your part to ensure that agricultural and environmental success continues to flourish in Wyoming.
    Dr. Brent Haglund is President of Sand County Foundation.