LeValley Ranch Receives Colorado Leopold Conservation Award
April 20, 2023
LeValley Ranch has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.
The LeValleys raise beef cattle in Delta and Montrose counties. The conservation practices they have implemented are improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and soil health.
The award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes ranchers, farmers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands.
The LeValleys will be presented with the award in June at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in Steamboat Springs.
In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, and Premier Farm Credit.
“Colorado farming and ranching families proudly produce the food that feeds the world and provide invaluable benefits to their communities and the environment. These contributions, in addition to outstanding stewardship and conservation on working lands, are exemplified by all the Leopold Conservation Award applicants,” said Philip Anderson, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) President. “CCA warmly extends its congratulations to the LeValley family on their well-deserved recognition, and for being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry and beyond.”
“This year, we recognize the LeValley Ranch’s foresight to cultivate long-term management practices that will ensure their lands are productive well into the future,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “Their community involvement and leadership are both admirable and representative of the efforts of Colorado’s farm and ranch families to not only produce healthy food and fiber but also improve and sustain ecological landscapes and Colorado’s rural communities.”
“The recipients of this award are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Colorado recipient,” 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.”
Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Chico Basin Ranch of Colorado Springs, and Round River Resource Management LLC of Rush.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible by generous contributions from the American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, Premier Farm Credit, Sand County Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Stanko Ranch, CKP Insurance, Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, McDonald’s, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, and The Nature Conservancy.
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 landowners in 27 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
LeValley Ranch has always been managed with the long term in mind.
Thomas LeValley homesteaded a piece of land in western Colorado’s North Fork Valley in 1914. He was among the community members who created the Crawford Reservoir which held enough water to irrigate thousands of acres. Since then, his son Byron, and grandsons Mark, Hank, and Steve, have created a showcase of what can be achieved on a working cattle ranch.
Despite two decades of dry weather, the irrigation improvements and rangeland conservation practices adopted at LeValley Ranch have increased water efficiency and crop production, while enhancing rangeland biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
LeValley Ranch and the grazing land it leases from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the core habitat for the satellite Crawford population of the Gunnison sage-grouse. The LeValleys have worked cooperatively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), BLM, and a local working group since 1995 to address the needs of the threatened species. LeValley Ranch has modified its grazing rotations, reduced cattle numbers during extreme drought, and added watering areas for grouse.
The LeValleys have long known the key to maintaining their rangeland’s health is to not over graze it. Pastures on their private land in Delta and Montrose counties are not grazed for more than two weeks annually, while leased BLM and USFWS lands are only grazed every other year. Their planned grazing rotation allows time for grasses to properly regrow, and maintains enough root mass intact to grow stronger grass and forbs when moisture becomes available.
To reach distant pastures, the LeValleys installed solar panels to power large pumps that feed waterlines and storage tanks supplying drinking water to livestock, numerous bird species, and big game. With assistance from the BLM Grazing Advisory Board, the LeValleys installed 17 miles of pipeline and water tanks to service the BLM allotment in 1992. Their maintenance and expense are LeValley Ranch’s responsibility.
After taking over management of the ranch in 1987, Mark and Hank became early adopters of cooperative rangeland monitoring. An extensive testing system has documented an upward trend in range condition and species diversity at LeValley Ranch and on leased properties, including grazing land at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
A targeted grazing system helps reduce noxious fescue and bulbosa grasses. In their place, the LeValleys plant native grasses that are palatable for cattle, deer, and elk, and provide habitat for the ranch’s game bird and big game hunting business. LeValley Ranch’s cattle are only fed harvested forages from March to mid-May, which reduces costs and creates healthier soil.
To weather the ups and downs of the beef business, the LeValleys partner with five other ranches in operating a USDA-inspected custom meat packing plant and retail store. Not only does selling beef directly to consumers allow them to control the supply chain from the ranch gate to the food plate, but it also gives them the opportunity to inform others of the environmental benefits cattle ranching can have on the landscape.
Just as Thomas could have envisioned, his great-grandson Ross LeValley is stepping up to assist with the cattle, wildlife, and the working landscape at LeValley Ranch.
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THE LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation, and national sponsor American Farmland Trust, present the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
AMERICAN AGCREDIT, COBANK, FARM CREDIT of SOUTHERN COLORADO and PREMIER FARM CREDIT are associated with the nationwide Farm Credit cooperative structure that supports more than 500,000 customer-owners across all 50 states. Farm Credit supports rural communities and agriculture with reliable, consistent credit and financial services since 1916.
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. www.farmland.org
COLORADO CATTLEMEN’S AGRICULTURAL LAND TRUST was founded in 1995 by the membership of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association to conserve Colorado’s western heritage and working landscapes for the benefit of future generations. To date, CCALT has partnered with hundreds of ranching families in the protection of more than 750,000 acres. www.ccalt.org
COLORADO CATTLEMEN’S ASSOCIATION is the state’s only nonprofit trade organization exclusively representing Colorado’s beef producers. Founded in 1867, CCA is the nation’s oldest state cattlemen’s association. www.coloradocattle.org
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. www.sandcountyfoundation.org
USDA NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS) is a federal agency committed to helping private landowners care and make healthy choices for the land and water, while using them productively. Through voluntary incentive-based programs, the NRCS works directly with farmers, ranchers, forest owners and other land stewards to provide technical expertise and financial assistance to make conservation work on private lands. www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/co/home/