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Dockter-Jensen Ranch Selected for North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award

The Dockter-Jensen Ranch is the recipient of the 2020 North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award®.

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

In North Dakota, Sand County Foundation presents the award with American Farmland Trust, North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts and the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

The Dockter and Jensen families farm and ranch near Denhoff in Sheridan County. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected for the award.

“The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association offers its congratulations to this year’s Leopold Conservation Award winner, said Dan Rorvig, NDSA president and cow-calf producer from McVille. “Ranchers and farmers take their jobs as stewards of the land and the livestock seriously. To us, it is not only how we make our living, but how we can ensure a legacy for future generations.”

“The North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition is honored to present this prestigious award to the Dockter and Jensen families,” said Jerry Doan, NDGLC President. “The way they live and manage their operation is an outstanding model in the implementation of voluntary conservation and outreach on the role private landowners play in conservation. They are a true inspiration for other landowners.”

“The North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts is proud to be part of the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award in North Dakota,” said Brian Johnston, NDASCD CEO. “It is an honor to recognize the Dockter-Jensen Ranch as recipient of the 2020 Leopold Conservation Award. NDASCD congratulates the Dockter-Jensen Ranch recognizing their commitment to incorporating sound conservation practices to ensure the land will be productive for generations to come.”

“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

“We are pleased to present this award to the Dockter and Jensen families for their outstanding application of innovative grazing practices, conservation cropping and their dedication to the land, soil and livestock they steward,” said John Piotti, American Farmland Trust President and Chief Executive Officer. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people. The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

Earlier this year, North Dakota landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. Among the many outstanding North Dakota landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Little Eden Ranch of Wolford in Pierce County, and Paul Ranch of Carson in Grant County.

The first North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Black Leg Ranch from McKenzie in 2016. Last year’s recipient was Gene and Christine Goven from Turtle Lake.

The Leopold Conservation Award Program in North Dakota is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Sand County Foundation, North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, Starion Bank, North Dakota Game & Fish Department, APEX Clean Energy, Audubon Dakota, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Burleigh County Soil Conservation District, ConocoPhillips, Cow Chip Ranch, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Emmons County Soil Conservation District, KEM Electric Cooperative, McDonald’s, Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative, North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, Pheasants Forever, Roughrider Electric Cooperative, Slope Electric Cooperative, The Nature Conservancy, The Wildlife Society, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

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 21 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information on the award, visit


Kerry Dockter believes you’re never too old to learn.

As a result, his family’s beef cattle ranch operates in a constant state of adaption and innovation, thanks to his careful observation, openness to new perspectives, and ability to work with researchers and nature.

After college, Kerry returned home to ranch with his parents Theo and Norma. In the four decades since, Kerry and his wife Brenda have become land management innovators. They’ve tested ways to enhance wildlife and pollinator habitat while improving the ranch’s bottom line. Utilizing cattle as a tool to improve the land for future generations is a practice they’ve come to know well.

The Dockters never lost sight of the fact that native grasslands are the backbone of their grazing operation. As a result, they developed rotational grazing systems to promote a diversity of native grasses. They’ve extended the grazing season while producing forage for the winter. Longer recovery periods between grazings allows the grass to stimulate root development while sequestering carbon.

When few ranchers in North Dakota were willing to try fire as a management tool, the Dockters used prescribed burns to enhance wildlife and pollinator habitat thanks to a strong working relationship with The Nature Conservancy.

The ranch sits in the heart of the Missouri Coteau (mixed-grass prairie) “Duck Factory” of Sheridan County. They’ve collaborated with the North Dakota State University and other researchers to demonstrate the compatibility of cattle grazing with waterfowl and grassland bird production. Haying now occurs after mid-July to allow grassland-nesting birds the time needed to hatch. Frequent dialogue with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and allowing hunters access to their land, further shows regulators and the public the compatibility of grass-based agriculture with vibrant wildlife populations.

The Dockters have been able to increase the stocking rate of their pastures, while protecting their soil thanks to embracing a suite of conservation practices. On other parts of the ranch, innovative crop rotations, no-till practices and cover crops have improved soil health while eliminating erosion. Such efforts earned the family the Sheridan County Soil Conservation Achievement Award in 1994.

Much of the ranch’s native grassland and wetlands are permanently protected by conservation easements that ensure future access for grass-based agricultural uses.

Dockter Ranch changed its name to Dockter-Jensen Ranch when one of their three daughters, Kristi and her husband Kyle Jensen, moved back to help, learn and someday take over the ranch. The family’s concern for their land and community is genuine, as each have served on local school boards, township boards, fire departments and agricultural organizations.

Dockter-Jensen Ranch


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, New York, 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.


American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.


The NDGLC is a non-profit organization that believes through voluntary actions, respect for private property rights, and providing education on the values and multiple benefits of well managed grazing resources, the goals of promoting the health and sustainability of North Dakota's grazing lands are achievable.


The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association is a 90-year-old non-profit trade organization that works to unite, protect, promote, educate and serve the beef industry of North Dakota.


The purpose of the North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts is to further the widespread application of sound and practical soil and water conservation practices in North Dakota. Our goal is to provide quality membership services and nursery products to carry out the soil conservation program of the soil conservation districts of North Dakota.