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Finalists Selected for South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award

PIERRE, SD – Four finalists have been selected for the prestigious 2019 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award®.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes private landowners who inspire others with their dedication to the land, water and wildlife resources in their care.

In South Dakota, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.

The finalists are:

  • Bien Ranch of Veblen in Marshall County: Brothers Niel, Boyd, and Lyle Bien and their families rotationally graze beef cattle on pastures of native prairie. Cover crops and no-till practices build soil health and reduce erosion while growing corn, soybean, oat, millet and alfalfa. Wildlife benefit from the food plots interspersed throughout the ranch and 100 acres of tree plantings.
  • Blair Brothers Angus Ranch of Vale in Butte County: Brothers Ed and Rich, and their sons Chad and Britton, and their families have planted trees that provide shelterbelts and utilize no-till farming practices to reduce erosion and conserve moisture in the soil. They were early adopters of rotational grazing for their beef cattle. They credit conservation practices with benefitting their cattle, watershed and wildlife.
  • Hefner Ranch of Whitewood in Lawrence County: Dan and Deb Hefner’s pastures and hay fields are always covered, so soil erosion is virtually non-existent. They rotationally graze beef cattle on 23 pastures of diverse and productive grasslands. They have designated streambank riparian acres for wildlife. The abundant populations these areas attract are managed by commercial turkey and deer hunting opportunities.
  • Johnson Farms of Frankfort in Spink County: Brian and Jamie Johnson raise beef cattle and use crop rotations on their corn, soybean, oat, wheat and barley. Cover crops and no-till practices conserve soil moisture, minimize soil erosion, and build soil health. The cover crops also provide feed for their cattle and habitat for wildlife. They apply variable rates of seed and fertilizer on their fields depending on soil samples and moisture levels.

This year’s recipient will be revealed by Governor Kristi Noem on Earth Day (April 22). The $10,000 award, and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold will be presented to the recipient during the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in December.

“SDCA congratulates the 2019 Leopold Conservation Award finalists,” said Steve Ollerich, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President and beef producer from Dell Rapids. “We’re pleased to be involved with this award that acknowledges and celebrates the role of private landowners in stewarding our national resources. Highlighting the great work of these farm and ranch families is important to SDCA and our Leopold Conservation Award partners.”

“The South Dakota Grassland Coalition commends these four families for their creative application of conservation practices to ensure their family farms and ranches are not only good stewards of our natural resources, but also profitable enterprises to be passed on to the next generation. We thank them for their leadership in South Dakota’s number one industry,” said Jim Faulstich, South Dakota Grassland Coalition Chairman.

The Leopold Conservation Award in South Dakota is possible thanks to generous contributions from South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Grassland Coalition, First Dakota National Bank, South Dakota Department of Agriculture, South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Discovery Center, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks, South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, South Dakota State University College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Bad River Ranches, Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership, Ducks Unlimited, Millborn Seeds, South Dakota Pheasants Forever, Daybreak Ranch, Audubon Dakota, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, North Central SARE – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Professional Alliance, South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts, The Nature Conservancy in South Dakota, Todd Mortenson family, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Partners for Fish Wildlife, Wagner Land & Livestock, and McDonald’s.

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 13 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

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. The award consists of a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold and $10,000. Sand County Foundation presents Leopold Conservation Awards in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION is the nation’s leading voice for private conservation. Based in Wisconsin, the non-profit organization is dedicated to working with private landowners to advance the use of ethical and scientifically sound land management practices that benefit the environment.

THE SOUTH DAKOTA CATTLEMEN’S ASSOCIATION is a member-driven organization working to advance and protect the interests of all cattlemen.

THE SOUTH DAKOTA GRASSLAND COALITION is a non-profit organization that seeks the voluntary improvement of grasslands for the long-term needs of the resource and its various species. The South Dakota Grassland Coalition is dedicated to improving and maintaining the state’s grasslands by informing and guiding grassland managers to make cost-effective and environmentally sound management decisions.

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