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Finalists for Montana Leopold Conservation Award Selected

HELENA, MT – Three finalists have been selected for the prestigious Montana Leopold Conservation Award®.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers, foresters and other landowners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land.

This is first year the $10,000 award has been presented in Montana.

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 20 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. In Montana, Governor Steve Bullock’s Office, Montana Department of Agriculture, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Rangeland Resources Committee, present the award with Sand County Foundation.

The finalists are:

  • Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree of Havre in Hill County: Vilicus Farm boasts a diverse crop rotation on its 7,000 acres, and its owners are leaders in testing ways to convert non-native grasslands into native prairies. Prairie strips between grain fields support pollinators, beneficial insects, grassland birds and wildlife. Hundreds of acres are enrolled in long-term conservation easements. Growing year-round cover crops in this arid region has improved their soil’s health.
  • Craig and Conni French of Malta in Phillips County: Innovative grazing practices are used at French Ranch to improve soil health and water quality. Temporary, wildlife-friendly fencing for beef cattle reduces barriers for migratory pronghorn, mule deer and elk. Livestock water tanks and windbreaks have been moved away from Beaver Creek’s three miles of shoreline on the ranch. The Frenches work with The Nature Conservancy to establish habitat for threatened grassland birds and sage grouse.
  • Bill and Dana Milton of Roundup in Musselshell County: The Miltons are cattle ranchers using conservation practices to build their rangeland’s resiliency. They have restored prairies with deep-rooted, diverse vegetation to increase the soil’s ability to infiltrate and hold water. They implement high-intensity, rotational grazing practices to feed their beef cattle. Wildlife benefit from special fencing and water troughs equipped with escape ramps.

Earlier this year, Montana landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

The award recipient will be revealed at the Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Convention in Billings on November 13.

“The Montana Leopold Conservation Award finalists demonstrate the many ways in which caring for the health of our land, streams, and wildlife goes hand in hand with maintaining productive farm and ranchland operations,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “I’m grateful for the contributions of our state’s landowners in sustaining the landscapes and values we care deeply about as Montanans and for inspiring future generations to engage in environmental stewardship.”

“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, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer.

The Montana Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of Governor Steve Bullock’s Office, Montana Department of Agriculture, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Rangeland Resources Committee, Sibayne-Stillwater, World Wildlife Fund, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bayer Crop Science, Montana Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Montana Weed Control Association, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Society for Range Management – Northern Great Plains Section, Western Landowners Alliance, The Wildlife Society of Montana, and Montana Farm Bureau Federation.

In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

For more information on the award, visit

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The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont).


Sand County Foundation inspires and enables a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

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