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Jake Hamill to Receive Colorado Leopold Conservation Award

Jake Hamill has been selected as the recipient of the 2024 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.

The 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.

Hamill, a cattle rancher and owner of Hamill Ranch in Moffat County, will be presented with the award in June at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention. He receives $10,000 for being selected.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust will present Leopold Conservation Awards to landowners in 27 states this year. In Colorado the award is presented annually with 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.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers and forestland owners 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.

Colorado 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 Colorado. Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Camblin Livestock and McIntyre Ranch of Maybell, and Wagon Wheel Ranch of Yuma.


Resiliency defines Jake Hamill and his ranch.

Beyond ranching’s normal challenges of unpredictable weather and market conditions, Hamill Ranch is in Moffat County, where high elevations and lack of water pose serious obstacles.

But from early on, Jake had a vision to tap into the underutilized natural resources of the ranch his father homesteaded in 1917. Jake and his late wife Calista purchased Hamill Ranch in 1963 and raised sheep before transitioning to cattle 10 years later.

Jake developed an uncanny knack for finding a way to conserve natural resources and wildlife habitat while expanding his cow-calf herd from 120 to 300 head. With assistance from Soil Conservation Services (the predecessor of the Natural Resources Conservation Services) Jake found ways to move water using gravity which allowed him to graze cattle on mountain tops and other remote areas of the 4,400-acre ranch.

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His passion for water and its application for conservation drove him to other innovations. He developed springs and reservoirs and installed more than 20 miles of pipelines that deliver water to large storage and stock tanks. This allows cattle and wildlife to have water available in places that would otherwise not be efficiently grazed. To maximize forage production, Jake leveled a riverside hay field and pumped water to higher fields using pivots and sprinkler guns.

“What Jake has been able to accomplish with water for his pastures and hay fields exhibits a level of brilliance that few, if any, would have ever thought possible,” said ranch manager Darrell Camilletti.

At the age of 86, Jake and his daughters outsourced the day-to-day management of Hamill Ranch to Camilletti and his son Joe. The Camillettis credit Jake with showing them the economic and environmental value of conservation practices. They credit his past practices for making it possible for them to graze cattle amid three years of prolonged drought.

Hamill Ranch’s pastures are strategically placed with wildlife-friendly, cross fencing to prevent over-grazing and allow regrowth of preferred grasses. Native plants from bluebells to silver lupine have flourished thanks to Jake’s meticulous work to control noxious weeds and brush.

Hamill Ranch straddles the Williams Fork River, which can vary from barely flowing to flooding. To prevent soil erosion, Jake stabilized its banks with rip rap and controlled grazing methods.

Through the years, the Hamill Ranch’s economic resiliency was bolstered by the successful irrigation and outfitting side businesses that Jake created.

No single act or achievement shows Jake’s personal resilience like his response to tragedy in 1995.

A fire in his workshop destroyed several outbuildings, tractors, haying equipment, tools, and irreplaceable items his parents had gifted him. While preventing the fire from spreading to his house Jake suffered first, second, and third degree burns over half of his body.

He could have given up, but he didn’t.

Instead, after leaving a burn center in Denver his priorities were harvesting hay so his cows would have feed that winter, and building a calving barn before spring.

With the help of his community, he rebuilt what was lost over the course of several years. It’s that sort of grit and commitment that has marked his six decades of ranching.

Jake’s success and longevity at Hamill Ranch is the epitome of resilience.


“Colorado farming and ranching families proudly contribute to the legacy of agriculture and food production in our state. These contributions, in addition to outstanding stewardship and conservation on working lands are exemplified by all the Leopold Conservation Award applicants,” said Robert Farnam, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) President. “CCA warmly extends its congratulations to the Hamill family on their well-deserved recognition, and for being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry and beyond.”

“Congratulations to the Hamill family, the well-deserved winners of the 2024 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award. Their dedication and passion for outstanding land and resource stewardship stands as a testament to the profoundly positive impact our farm and ranch families have on keeping Colorado a place defined by its natural beauty,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “The Hamill family exemplifies the dedication and love for the land and livestock that continues to define Colorado’s agricultural community.”

“The NRCS congratulates Mr. Hamill on his well-deserved award,” said Clint Evans, State Conservationist for the NRCS in Colorado. “The Hamill Ranch has a long-standing relationship with USDA and the NRCS is proud to be a part of this honor.”

“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.”

The Colorado Leopold Conservation Award 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, Stanko Ranch, ANB Bank, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, CKP Insurance, Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, McDonald’s, and The Nature Conservancy.

For more information on the award, visit

THE LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD 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, 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 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 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.

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.

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 and is guided by its grassroots members and vision of advancing the legacy of beef production.

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.

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.