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Blioux River Ranch Receives South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award

Blioux River Ranch of Castlewood has been selected as the recipient of the 2024 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award®.

The $10,000 award honors ranchers, farmers, and forestland owners who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat on working land.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present Leopold Conservation Awards to private landowners in 27 states. In South Dakota, the award is presented with the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.

Father and son, Barry and Eli Little, own and operate Blioux River Ranch in Hamlin County. They will be formally presented with the South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award at the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in December.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes landowners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold called for “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

Barry and Eli Little prioritize soil health on their 1,600 acres of cropland and 800 acres of pastures. They rotationally graze 500 head of beef cattle on pastures of native grasses. They also graze cattle on fields of cover crops to enrich the soil.

A variety of conservation practices have produced environmental and economic benefits through better crop yields, and less fertilizer and herbicide usage and expense. They have also demonstrated that grazing livestock can enhance wildlife habitat.

As active members of Pheasants Forever, the Littles volunteer their time and equipment to establish bird-friendly habitat for other landowners. The most important things for pheasant chick survival are insects of food and habitat for cover. The seed mix they plant provides cover and sequentially flowering plants to protect and feed pheasants, as well as provide a water source from dew on the plant stems.

“At Blioux River Ranch, their focus is soil health on every acre of their crop and pastureland. They also want to work towards the regeneration of their land,” said Brett Nix, South Dakota Grassland Coalition Chairman. “We look forward to continuing to highlight their conservation story throughout the year.”

“Blioux River Ranch’s commitment to rotationally graze cattle on pastureland and cropland demonstrates how integrating livestock benefits soil structure, water quality, and habitat, resulting in prosperous yields and overall production enhancement,” said Warren Symens, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President. “Their conservation ethic promotes natural processes and management practices – securing a legacy for future generations.”

“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 South Dakota 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.”

South Dakota landowners were encouraged to apply, or be nominated, for the award last year. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders from South Dakota. The first South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award was presented in 2010.

The Leopold Conservation Award Program in South Dakota made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Grassland Coalition, Sand County Foundation, South Dakota Farmers Union, South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks; South Dakota State University College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Audubon Great Plains, Bad River Ranches, Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership, Blair Brothers Angus Ranch, Cammack Ranch, Daybreak Ranch, Ducks Unlimited, First Dakota National Bank, Jim and Karen Kopriva, McDonald’s, Millborn Seeds, North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Professional Alliance, South Dakota Agricultural Land Trust, South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts, South Dakota Pheasants Forever, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, South Dakota Soybean Association, The Nature Conservancy, Todd Mortenson family, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and Wagner Land & Livestock.

For more information on the award, visit

Governor Noem Announces 2024 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

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, Minnesota, 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 6.8 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 SOUTH DAKOTA CATTLEMEN’S ASSOCIATION is a member-driven organization working to advance the interests of all cattlemen through representation and promotion of the beef industry.

THE SOUTH DAKOTA GRASSLAND COALITION is a non-profit organization that seeks the voluntary improvement of grasslands for the long-term needs of the resource and its various species. The South Dakota Grassland Coalition is dedicated to improving and maintaining the state’s grasslands by informing and guiding grassland managers to make cost-effective and environmentally sound management decisions.