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Ute Creek Cattle Company Receives First New Mexico Leopold Conservation Award

Ute Creek Cattle Company

Ute Creek Cattle Company of Bueyeros has been selected as the recipient of the inaugural New Mexico Leopold Conservation Award®.

Tuda Libby Crews and her husband Jack revitalized their ranchland in Harding County by removing invasive species and adopting a rest/rotation grazing system for their beef cattle. The Crews will be presented with the $10,000 award at the Quivira Coalition’s Regenerate 2021 event in Albuquerque, November 3-4.

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

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 23 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. In New Mexico, the award is presented with New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, Quivira Coalition and New Mexico Coalition to Enhance Working Lands.

Tuda and Jack improved wildlife habitat by restricting grazing on six miles of riparian area, and established a 23-acre sanctuary dedicated to imperiled shortgrass prairie birds in 2014.

“We’re excited to support the Leopold Conservation Award in New Mexico, and that this year’s award will go to Ute Creek Cattle Company. Tuda and her family have done the long and hard work of improving their rangeland and restoring their riparian areas, bringing neighboring ranchers together to talk about conservation strategies, and making significant contributions to keeping their small town vital,” said Sarah Wentzel-Fisher, Quivira Coalition Executive Director.

“The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts (NMACD) is proud to work through our local Soil and Water Conservation Districts along with the Quivira Coalition to recognize the hard work that our New Mexico farmers and ranchers do every day to improve our natural resources,” said Willard Hall, NMACD President.

“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 Ute Creek Cattle Company,” said John Piotti, AFT 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, New Mexico 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 outstanding New Mexico landowners nominated for the award was finalist JX Ranch of Tucumcari in Quay County.

The Leopold Conservation Award is given to farmers, ranchers and forestland owners across the U.S. in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

The New Mexico Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Sand County Foundation, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, Quivira Coalition, New Mexico Coalition to Enhance Working Lands, Dixon Water Foundation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services of New Mexico, Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, John Duncan and Anita Sarafa, and Holistic Management International.


Inspired by seven generations of family on the land and Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, Tuda Libby Crews approached land restoration by collaborating with others.

Tuda and her husband Jack realized restoration of Ute Creek Cattle Company required open minds, innovation, and financial/technical resources. Implementing conservation practices has transformed their shortgrass prairie ecosystem.

Partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2002, an Environmental Quality Incentives Program contract helped the Crews establish an adaptive grazing system to create 23 pastures from the original four. A water distribution system was established with pipelines and storage tanks to provide water for livestock and wildlife.

Time-managed adaptive grazing of their Angus cow herd remains critical to all of the Crews’ soil health and wildlife habitat goals. This system maximizes forage production, soil disturbance and natural fertilization, while increasing wildlife habitat on the once ecologically-degraded landscape. Grazing riparian areas in the dormant season protects bird species in that prime habitat during breeding and nesting seasons.

Tuda and Jack stabilized creek banks with erosion-control materials. They cut and piled three miles of dead salt cedar trees to create habitat for quail. Grazing goats also helped control salt cedars and other invasive species. Within 10 years of partnering with NRCS, New Mexico Water Trust Board, and Ute Creek Soil & Water Conservation Service, Ute Creek was a perennial water source and regional model of riparian restoration.

Diverse wildlife and bird species have increased and so has the quality of the cow herd; the sale of high-quality calves provides the ranch with operating revenue. To diversify income, the ranch has a hunting-lease enterprise to manage its elk, pronghorn, and white tail and mule deer populations. The Crews plan to re-introduce prescribed burning to improve grass palatability, stimulate forage production, and increase species biodiversity.

Nationwide, habitat loss from development, the climate crisis, and shortage of healthy forage under the vast migratory flyway has imperiled shortgrass prairie birds. With the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tuda established a 23-acre wild bird sanctuary providing water, a small grape vineyard, breeding and nesting areas, bird houses, and a few shade trees. As nature’s indicators of land health, bird species numbers are used as the yardstick to measure progress. The number of identified bird species has increased from 17 in 2004 to over 100 in 2018.

As a national advocate for preserving prairie ecosystems, Tuda’s land ethic is felt beyond the ranch’s fences. She helped form Partnerscapes, a national landowner-led conservation organization, which encourages landowner-leaders to become part of the solution by implementing conservation practices on private lands.

Tuda and Jack aim to leave the land healthier than they found it, and that mantra includes succession planning for future generations. Their adult children: Libby (Peter) Wood and Ted (Sadie Jo) and their families are committed to upholding conservation practices, animal welfare and wildlife habitat while providing all-natural, quality food for beef consumers. This lead-by-example approach earned them a regional Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in 2019.

Two years later their hard work, ability to work synergistically while holding themselves to a high standard of land stewardship is being honored with New Mexico’s first Leopold Conservation Award.

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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.


The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts’ mission is to facilitate the conservation of natural resources in New Mexico by providing opportunities and quality support to local conservation districts and partners through representation and leadership.


The Quivira Coalition builds soil, biodiversity, and resilience on western working landscapes. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration.


New Mexico Coalition to Enhance Workings Lands is a network of groups and individuals whose purpose is to support and enhance ongoing efforts to improve the health and productivity of New Mexico working lands that support agriculture and the environment. Its focus is to increase soil health, biodiversity, and hydrologic function wherever possible.