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Finalists Selected for Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award

MADISON – Three finalists have been selected for the prestigious 2019 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award®.

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

In Wisconsin the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association.

The finalists are:

  • Bill Ciolkosz of Thorp in Clark County: Expanded dairy facilities and feed and manure storage areas at Ciolkosz’s 200-cow dairy farm were designed to meet conservation and efficiency goals. Water runoff from more than 100 acres of cropland is diverted across grass waterways before reaching a diversion dam to reduce erosion and protect water quality. Ciolkosz plants pine trees, and maintains food plots and ponds for wildlife habitat.
  • Jeff Lake of Boyceville in Dunn County: Lake grows 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans, snap beans, kidney beans and alfalfa with no-till cultivation practices. To provide wildlife habitat and gain efficiencies, some marginal cropland has been converted into grass and full-season cover crops. Soil samples are taken to prevent over application of fertilizer. These efforts earned Lake the first-ever Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year award from Pheasants Forever.
  • John and Dorothy Priske of Fall River in Columbia County: The Priskes adopted no-till and rotational grazing practices, and installed grass waterways to improve water infiltration, sequester carbon and build organic matter in their soil. They raised and direct marketed Scottish Highland beef cattle until 2015. Their pastures provided deep-rooted ground cover to reduce soil erosion. The Priskes lease 165 acres of farmland to Madison College for use as an agricultural education facility.

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

This year’s recipient will be revealed at the November meeting of the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Madison. The award will be presented December 8 at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in Wisconsin Dells.

“Wisconsin Farm Bureau is proud to sponsor this award which recognizes farms that demonstrate a high standard care for their soil, water and livestock,” said Jim Holte, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President. “These finalists are farmers who lead by example, and inspire others to continue to search for better methods of protecting their resources.”

“The efforts of farmers across the state to care for and protect the land and water they steward are reflected in the strength of these candidates. Wisconsin continues to be a leader in conservation and sustainability,” said Patrick Geoghegan, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Industry Relations.

“The three Leopold Conservation Award finalists show how agriculture can be on the forefront of land stewardship,” said Matt Krueger, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association Executive Director. “Though their operations are quite different, these three farmers are similar in that they exemplify how conservation practices allow them to better manage their production and adapt to seasonal and climate variations. I commend their leadership, and their work to build resilient lands, watersheds, and communities.”

“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 first Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award was presented to woodland conservationist Gerry Mich of Appleton in 2006. The 2018 recipient was dairy farmer David Geiser of New Holstein in Calumet County.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Wisconsin is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Compeer Financial, McDonald’s, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, We Energies Foundation, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, and Whole Foods Market.

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.”

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 20 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. For more information on the award, visit

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Ciolsolz Wi

Bill & Bridget Ciolkosz

Lake Farms Photo

Jeff Lake family

Priske Finalists Wi 19

Dorothy & John Priske


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.


The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation is Wisconsin's largest general farm organization. It represents nearly 24,000 farms and agriculturists who belong to one of 61 county Farm Bureaus found across the state. Much like Wisconsin's diverse agricultural landscape, Farm Bureau members represent all farm commodities, farm sizes and management styles. Farm Bureau's mission is to lead the farm and rural community through legislative representation, education, public relations and leadership development.


Funded by Wisconsin dairy farmers, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin is a non-profit organization that focuses on marketing and promoting Wisconsin’s world-class dairy products.


The Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit, is a membership organization that supports the efforts of 450 Land Conservation Committee supervisors and 350 conservation staff in 72 county Land Conservation Department offices through training, conservation standards development, youth education, grants, partnership building, and advocacy.