The 2007 Leopold Conservation Award for Wyoming is presented to Paul and Catherine Kukowski and their family. The Kukowskis run more than 800 head of cattle on their 20,000-acre Golden Willow Ranch in Sheridan County.
The Golden Willow is a true family-run ranch. Daughter Bridget and 5-year-old grandson Ben help manage the daily operation, and the Kukowskis’ other children assist when they are able. Laura is one of their main horse handlers, and Matthew works on weed control, fence and corral maintenance, and livestock handling and processing. Peter and Anna, not only assist with the ranch, but also provide expertise and perspective from their experiences in the agricultural industry. Anna works as assistant slaughter manager at a beef plant and Peter owns an irrigated farm/feedlot.
The Kukowskis’ many conservation practices keep their operation economically and environmentally sustainable. One of the first major projects involved the installation of a water delivery system. This allowed a change in grazing patterns, which enabled them to withstand the current drought without drastically reducing herd size. The altered grazing patterns in turn improved native plant life, riparian areas, and wildlife habitat. The ranch is now experiencing growing populations of mule deer, antelope, elk, and numerous bird species. The ranch offers hunting opportunities to effectively manage wildlife populations.
The Kukowskis are very open to sharing their experience with the larger community. They regularly participate in the Wyoming Game & Fish Walk-in Program, which allows the general public to visit and learn about their ranch.
Most importantly, however, the Kukowskis view their conservation efforts as essential for those who will follow.
"Our resource management goals will continue to be long-term improvement of water, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and ranching sustainability for future generations,” said Paul Kukowski."