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Utah Leopold Conservation Award Finalists Selected

Three finalists have been selected for the 2023 Utah Leopold Conservation Award®.

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 land.

In Utah the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Utah Farm Bureau Federation, Western AgCredit and Utah Cattlemen’s Association.

The finalists are:

  • Bennion Ranch of Vernon in Tooele County: Over the past 21 years, Elizabeth and Alan Mitchell have focused on range rejuvenation on their cattle ranch. Acres of brush and pinyon-juniper have been removed, and range has been reseeded to pastures. For better utilization of their land, they installed new waterlines and troughs with wildlife ramps. Beaver Dam Analogs on Vernon Creek improve water quality (by filtering silt) and provide wildlife habitat.
  • Lewis Farms of Monticello in San Juan County: The Lewis family grows organic wheat, alfalfa, and safflower. They engage in conservation practices that control soil erosion, improve soil health, eradicate noxious weeds, and enhance wildlife habitat. The Lewises have built terraces and sediment control basins to control water erosion, and developed several springs to supply water for livestock and wildlife. They were early adopters of cover crops and no-till practices in their region.
  • Warrior Rizen Ranch of Porterville in Morgan County: John and Barbara Schilcte’s cattle ranch uses a rotational grazing system to promote soil health. Barley seed is used to grow fodder as an efficient alternative way to produce livestock feed. Water used by the fodder system is recycled to irrigate hay fields. The Schilctes use an implement called a subsoiler is used to prevent erosion and retain rain and snow melt in the soil. Solar water pumps provide drinking water for livestock and wildlife.

This year’s finalists were recognized at the Utah Association of Conservation Districts luncheon in St. George. The award recipient will be formally presented with $10,000 and a crystal award on November 17 at the Utah Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention in Provo.

The first Utah Leopold Conservation Award recipient was Harold Selman Ranches of Tremonton in 2007. The 2022 recipient was Myrin Ranch of Altamont.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Utah is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Utah Farm Bureau Federation, Western AgCredit, Utah Cattlemen’s Association, Sand County Foundation, CKP Insurance, Producers Livestock Marketing Association, Utah Association of Conservation Districts, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Utah Wool Growers Association, 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.”


“In today’s world, conserving water and natural resources is paramount, and we commend these families for their efforts in that regard,” said Spencer Gibbons, Utah Farm Bureau Federation CEO. “The Sand County Foundation is a strong ally, and this award shows the positive impact of collaborative efforts in advocating for responsible natural resources use. While we can honor only a select few families with this award, they truly represent the vast majority of farmers and ranchers in our state who feel a sense of responsibility to the land and animals.”

“Western AgCredit is a proud sponsor of the Leopold Conservation Award in Utah. These families have worked for generations to improve the quality and productive capacity of their lands, resulting in deserved recognition for being exemplary stewards of natural resources. Conservation is not only a sound business practice, but a way of life for these families,” said David Brown, Western AgCredit Chief Executive Officer.

“Agriculture landowners in Utah do an amazing job of conservation and care of their landscapes and resources. This year’s Leopold Conservation Award finalists are prime examples of the efforts our farmers and ranchers are making to be good stewards of the land,” said Brent Tanner, Utah Cattlemen's Association Executive Vice President.

“These award finalists 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 Utah award finalists,” 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.”

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. To read the stories of other extraordinary landowners, visit

Bennion UT 23

Bennion Ranch of Vernon in Tooele Count

Lewis UT 23

Lewis Farms of Monticello in San Juan County

Warrior Rizen UT 23

Warrior Rizen Ranch of Porterville in Morgan 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, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, 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).


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.


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.


The Utah Cattlemen’s Association has represented Utah cattle producers since 1870, preserving the heritage and strength of the industry through education and public policy and by supporting and establishing the adoption of good principles of raising and marketing cattle and caring for the land we ranch on. Efforts are made possible through membership contributions.


The Utah Farm Bureau is the largest general farm and ranch organization in the state with more than 34,000 member families. Its mission is to inspire all Utah families to connect, succeed and grow through the miracle of agriculture. It strives to bring value to every citizen and community through love of God, family, country, and the land through political action, educational and informational means.


Western AgCredit is the leader within the agricultural finance industry with nearly 100 years of lending to farmers in the Intermountain West. It currently serves approximately 1,700 customers with a full range of credit and financial services, as well as providing financial and volunteer support to several agricultural and community activities, including, among others, Utah Farm Bureau, Utah Cattlemen’s Association, Utah Wool Growers Association, the FFA, and the 4-H.