For the love of the land: The Leopold Conservation Award
The Leopold Conservation Award honors outstanding environmental stewardship by private landowners, presented in California by Sand County Foundation in partnership with Sustainable Conservation and California Farm Bureau Federation. The award inspires other landowners and helps the general public understand the vital role private landowners can and do play in conservation success.
In his influential book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage. The development of a land ethic was, he wrote, "an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity." A land ethic is alive and well today in the thousands of American farmers, ranchers, and foresters who do well by their land and do well for their land.
Sand County Foundation proudly presents its Leopold Conservation Award to a private landowner who exemplifies the spirit of this land ethic -- an individual or a family who translates their deep abiding love for the land into responsible stewardship and management. The Leopold Conservation Award is currently presented in six states: California, Colorado, Texas Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
In California, Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award in partnership with Sustainable Conservation and California Farm Bureau Federation. The 2006 award is co-sponsored in California by Capital Press, California's Agriculture Weekly. The Leopold Conservation Award winner receives a crystal rendering of Aldo Leopold and a check for $10,000. Two finalists each receive $1,000. The award will be presented annually in California.
In 2006, California nominations were considered in three categories: Nurseries and Crops; Dairy, Beef and Poultry; and Rangeland and Timber. Selection was based on the applicants' commitment to sustainable land management, the overall health of their land, implementation of innovative practices and dedication to community outreach and leadership. Expert evaluators toured the operations of all three finalists to understand the environmental and economic benefits of the various conservation practices, and a Blue Ribbon panel of experts chose the final award winner.
Winner: Brad and Randy Lange
Lange Twins Wine Estates
San Joaquin County, California
Nurseries & Crops category
"The environmental stewardship frame of mind allows us to think outside the box to find creative solutions that can be mutually beneficial to our ecosystem and to our bottom line…not to mention the priceless benefit of conserving the environment for future farming generations." - Brad Lange.
"We're blessed with the land that we have and we feel that we should take care of it, and part of that is being sustainable." - Randy Lange
Brad and Randy Lange are third-generation winegrape growers on their 6,500 acre vineyard near Lodi.
Building on the efforts of their father which began in the 1940s, the Lange brothers' approach today includes:
- Restoring riparian habitat along the Mokelumne River.
- Pioneering new ways to combat pests with natural predators, thus minimizing the use of harmful and costly pesticides.
- Planting cover crops between the rows of grapes to reduce dust, improve soil quality, keep rain from washing precious topsoil into the river and provide additional habitat for beneficial species.
- Using specialized sprayers that reduce fungicide use by up to 50% and reduce water use per application ten-fold. Less spraying also means fewer tractor passes through the vineyard, saving on fuel and labor and lowering emissions of dust and other airborne pollutants.
- Installing solar power for their vineyard operations and farmhouse.
- Building a state-of-the-art winery facility that incorporates energy-efficient lighting, safe sanitation methods that employ ozone instead of chlorine and an advanced processing system to treat wastewater generated during the winemaking process.
The Langes regularly host meetings and tours at their vineyard for regulators, public officials, media and environmental organizations to keep the dialogue open regarding conservation. They were instrumental in the development and implementation of the "Lodi Winegrower's Workbook," which is deemed in the industry to be an essential guide for individuals seeking to improve farming and conservation practices.
Finalist: The Rickert Family
Shasta County, California
Dairy, Beef & Poultry category
"It required more time and money, but we felt we were doing the right thing – providing valuable habitat during waterfowl migration. It's absolutely amazing to see literally thousands of birds on the fields during the winter months feeding on the stubble and then migrating to their next destination." - Mary Rickert
Jim and Mary Rickert and their son, James, manage the Prather Ranch, which spans approximately 34,000 acres across northern California. The ranch has evolved from a conventional cow/calf operation to a complex agribusiness through the use of modern technology. In 1990, the Rickerts developed the nation's first large scale "closed herd" that was based on the need to prevent mad cow disease and led to providing pharmaceutical companies with raw materials for human surgical procedures. The Rickerts are able to sustain the economic viability of the ranch in concert with improving the land. Conservation efforts include the development of two wildlife ponds, totaling over 100 surface acres, the introduction of rice paddies that provide foraging habitat for migratory birds, and the installation of a hydroelectric plant in 1982. The Rickerts also manage an intensive grazing system to increase plant diversity and utilize exclusionary fencing to protect aquatic resources. The Rickerts often work with college and university students on progressive animal husbandry and offer tours of the ranch to high school students and 4-H clubs interested in conservation.
Finalist: Jack Varian
Monterey County, California
Rangeland & Timber category
"The land is a like a person ... like you and me. It likes to be cared for. And, if you do it right, it'll take care of you." - Jack Varian
The Varian family has owned and operated the more than 16,000 acres of V6 Ranch in Parkfield, Monterey County, California for 45 years. Jack Varian and his wife, Zee, pride themselves on taking a holistic approach to ranching. Conservation initiatives include rotational grazing and the restoration of willow and cottonwood trees to prevent creek bank erosion and increase the diversity of plant and animal life. Varian developed multiple marketing strategies to supplement family income, educate and entertain tourists, and increase biodiversity. The Varians host cattle drives and offer guided horseback rides and hunting/fishing trips. They established the Parkfield Inn to house guests who take part in these activities. Jack Varian regularly gives public lectures on conservation practices, serves on the Advisory Board of the Trust for Public Land, and has been a member of California Farm Bureau Federation for over 40 years.
Sand County Foundation
Sand County Foundation is a private, non-profit conservation group dedicated to working with private landowners to improve habitat on their land. The foundation's mission is to advance the use of ethical and scientifically sound land management practices and partnerships for the benefit of people and their rural landscapes. Sand County Foundation works with private landowners because the majority of the nation's fish, wildlife and natural resources are found on private lands. The organization backs local champions, invests in civil society and places incentives before regulation to create solutions that endure and grow. The organization encourages the exercise of private responsibility in the pursuit of improved land health as an essential alternative to many of the commonly used strategies in modern conservation. www.sandcounty.net
California Farm Bureau Federation
The California Farm Bureau Federation is California's largest farm organization, comprised of 53 county Farm Bureaus representing nearly 92,000 members throughout California, including farm families and those who support the farming way of life. It is a non-governmental, non-profit, voluntary membership organization whose purpose is to represent, protect and promote agricultural interests throughout the State of California and to find solutions to the problems of the farm, the farm home and the rural community. The organization strives to protect and improve the ability of farmers and ranchers engaged in production agriculture to provide a safe and reliable supply of food, fiber and flowers through responsible stewardship of their resources. www.cfbf.com
Sustainable Conservation partners with business, agriculture and government to find practical ways that the private sector can protect clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems. The independent nonprofit organization leads powerful collaborations that produce lasting solutions and sustain the vitality of both the economy and the environment. Recent accomplishments include: establishing a statewide methane digester program for California dairy farmers to generate renewable energy; demonstrating "conservation tillage," which decreases particulate air pollution while reducing farmers' energy and labor costs; establishing a set of business practices for automobile recyclers to keep toxic materials out of the waterways; and creating a regulatory framework for private landowners to get prompt one-stop approval of sound habitat restoration projects. The organization received the Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2004. www.suscon.org