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Finalists Selected for 2021 California Leopold Conservation Award

Three finalists have been selected for the 2021 California Leopold Conservation Award®.

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

In California, Sand County Foundation presents the award with American Farmland Trust, and state partners: Sustainable Conservation and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The finalists are:

  • Beretta Family Dairy of Sonoma County. The Beretta family has farmed on their organic dairy for three generations with local watershed health top of mind. Taught that you should only milk as many cows as the land can handle, Doug Beretta and his family’s conservation wins include using reclaimed wastewater through the City of Santa Rosa since 1981 for irrigation, clean water diversion with NRCS, installing equipment to help compost the dairy’s manure solids, and working with CDFA’s Healthy Soils program to use this compost in conjunction with no-till, prescribed grazing and other soil-health-boosting practices. The dairy’s grazing operations and management reduce fire fuels in their watershed and provide habitat for local wildlife. The Beretta Family are early adopters of a voluntary water credit trading program, and regularly serve on trade organization and local Boards to model farming leadership as well as sustainable practices in their industry.
  • Stemple Creek Ranch of Marin County. The Poncias have farmed near Tomales, California for four generations. Loren and Lisa Poncia take great pride in their herds and how they manage their land to build organic matter and carbon in their soil. From ensuring migratory birds have habitat on their lands to planting trees, fencing riparian areas to protect critically endangered species and working early with the Marin Carbon Project as one of their three demonstration farms, the Poncias reduce their off-site feed, harvest their animals year-round and boast more than 50 species of birds, owls, ducks and bees on their property. They regularly host soil scientists from around the world on their property to continue improving and refining their sequestration efforts, and have adapted their business practices over the past two years to meet the significant challenges facing us all.
  • Witcher Creek Ranch of Modoc County. The Naders traded their portion of their historically family-owned ranch in 1999 for the 2880-acre Witcher Creek Ranch, and quickly established a plan to balance the land’s ranching practices, resilient grazing pastures and extensive wildlife habitat. The Naders’ organic hay and cattle grazing operations include rotational grazing efforts that made riparian restoration on the property possible. Multiple restoration projects rejuvenated miles of riparian habitat, and extensive, long-term monitoring of these sites through photography, stream temperature data collection, soil sampling and forage testing gives the Naders consistent and actionable data on the health of the ranch’s natural resources. Marie and Glenn often present to and teach in their agricultural community and across California, and host regular ranch field tours.

The Leopold Conservation Award will be presented during the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in December. The award recipient will receive $10,000 and a crystal award.

“California’s natural resources are stressed in many ways, and landowners are frontline actors who can implement innovative, on-the-ground environmental solutions,” said Ashley Boren, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Conservation, which has co-sponsored the award since its launch in California more than a decade ago. “The Poncias, Naders and Barettas have worked creatively and consistently to address our most pressing environmental issues and make sure their operations are resilient and adaptable. We’re honored to recognize each family’s significant stewardship work, and all are deserving of the award.”

“On behalf of the California Farm Bureau we congratulate this year’s finalists for the Leopold Conservation Award. They are showcasing on a daily basis good environmental stewardship in managing their farm and ranch operations while producing safe, affordable food for Californians and consumers across the globe,” said Jamie Johansson, California Farm Bureau Federation President.

“Finalists for 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.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust, celebrates the hard work and dedication of the California award finalists,” said John Piotti, American Farmland Trust President and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

Earlier this year, farmers, ranchers and forestland owners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural, forestry, wildlife, academic, and other conservation leaders.

The first California Leopold Conservation Award recipient, Lange Twins Wine Estates of Lodi, was selected in 2006. Burroughs Family of Farms of Denair received the award in 2020.

The Leopold Conservation Award in California is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Sustainable Conservation, California Farm Bureau Federation, Sand County Foundation The Harvey L. & Maud C. Sorensen Foundation, Farm Credit, The Nature Conservancy in California, McDonald’s, and California LCA recipient alumni.

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 23 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information, 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, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, 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 empowers 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. Learn more at


Sustainable Conservation helps California thrive by uniting people to solve the toughest challenges facing California’s land, air and water. Since 1993, it has brought together business, landowners and government to steward the resources that we all depend on in ways that are just and make economic sense. Sustainable Conservation believes common ground is California's most important resource.


The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 40,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 5.5 million Farm Bureau members.

Photo above of 2019 California Leopold Conservation Award recipient Rominger Brothers Farms.