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Finalists Selected for 2021 North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award

Two finalists have been selected for the prestigious 2021 North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award®.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the 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 and national sponsor, American Farmland Trust, present the $10,000 award with state partners: North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts and the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

The finalists are:

  • Sand Ranch of Ellendale in Dickey County: Brad Sand’s 700-acre cattle ranch sits on North Dakota’s grasslands and depressional prairie pothole wetlands. He utilizes cover crops and a rotational grazing system. Grazing cover crops provides more feed while improving the soil’s biological diversity. He has restored native grasses on the ranch’s marginally productive soils. Native grasses and healthier soils tend to have increased water infiltration rates and more residual moisture, which helps in dry years.
  • Spring Valley Cattle of Glen Ullin in Morton County: The Lance Gartner family implement innovative grazing strategies at their cattle ranch. Practices that prioritize soil health have resulted in increased rain infiltration and productive pastures. A diverse cover crop rotation and no-till practices are used to grow 300 acres of rye and oats. They no longer use commercial fertilizers, and solar-powered pumps provide cattle and wildlife with access to fresh water.

The award recipient will be announced later this summer and recognized in November at the North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts’ Annual Convention.

“Congratulations to this year’s Leopold Conservation Award finalists and to all the outstanding farmers and ranchers in North Dakota who steward the land and the livestock and make this world a better place,” said North Dakota Stockmen’s Association President Jeff Schafer from New Rockford.

“It is an honor to present the finalists for this esteemed award. Each operation has shown outstanding achievement in implementation of voluntary conservation, inspiration of other landowners by example, and outreach on the role private landowners play in conservation,” said Jerry Doan, North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition President.

“We are proud to be part of the unique coalition that brought the Leopold Conservation Award to North Dakota,” said Brian Johnston, North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts Executive Director and CEO. “This prestigious award recognizes North Dakota’s best land stewards. We look forward to this year’s finalists being announced. Good luck to each contestant and thank you for your leadership in stewarding our lands.”

“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.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the North Dakota award finalists,” said John Piotti, AFT President and Chief Executive Officer. “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.”

Applications were submitted by landowners, or on behalf of a landowner. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

The Leopold Conservation Award was first presented in North Dakota in 2016. The Dockter-Jensen Ranch of Denhoff in Sheridan County received the 2020 award.

The Leopold Conservation Award Program in North Dakota is made possible thanks to the generous support of the American Farmland Trust, North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, Sand County Foundation, 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.

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 23 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

For more information on the award, visit

Lance Gartner Family

The Lance Gartner family (Spring Valley Cattle) of Glen Ullin in Morton County

Brad Sand

Brad Sand (Sand Ranch) of Ellendale in Dickey County


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.


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.