Four Families Are Finalists For Conservation Award

Four Families Are Finalists For Conservation Award

One will be awarded $10,000 for achievements in South Dakota.

Gary and Amy Cammack, Meade County; Jim and Karen Kopriva, Clark County; the Mortenson family, Stanley County, and the Smeenk family, Butte County, are finalists for the 2011 Leopold Conservation award. In South Dakota.

One of them will be awarded $10,000 at the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association annual convention in Pierre in December.

The award, created by the Sand County Foundation, a national conservation group, recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. The award will be presented in eight states this year.

In South Dakota, the award is being sponsored by the Bradley Fund for the Environment, American State Bank, Daybreak Ranch, Ducks Unlimited, Millborn Seeds, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Rassmussen Fund, South Dakota's Conservation Districts, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, the South Dakota State University Foundation, Farm Credit Services of America, and The Nature Conservancy.

Here are some details about the South Dakota finalists:

Gary and Amy Cammack (Meade County)

Gary and Amy Cammack operate their 7,000 acre ranch under a philosophy that involves improving the range, creating wildlife habitat, conserving energy and building a productive and profitable cattle business. The Cammacks planted 20,000 trees over the past 27 years. They believe that the plantings and isolation of riparian areas can provide wildlife habitat, as well as protection for livestock along the perimeters of the shelterbelts. In addition, they are building a water jet system to plant willow and cottonwood shoots, providing added protection to livestock and wildlife. Gary and Amy also take pride in recycling materials for agricultural purposes. For instance, their water tanks are all made out of old equipment tires. They also were among the first ranchers to install V-windbreaks from reject metal they buy from steel mills. These 10 foot high, 96 foot long, V-shaped windbreaks provide protection from the weather but also keep cattle out of creek bottoms, resulting in fewer nutrients in the water and less trampling of vegetation in riparian areas.

Jim and Karen Kopriva (Clark County)

Jim and Karen Kopriva's ranch, which they operate with their son, Lee, is located near Raymond and consists of approximately 2,000 acres. Initially, the Koprivas were grain farmers but economics and a fondness for cattle prompted the family to transition their cropland to grassland and hayland over the past decade. Today, just 130 acres are no-tilled and cropped. The remaining acreage consists of native rangeland, seeded pastures and hayland. The Koprivas utilize rotational grazing, which has helped them increase grazing by 50 percent. Their rotational grazing strategy includes cross fencing and water developments, such as two rural water pipelines that are designed to utilize geothermal heat to provide ice-free water for the cattle in remote areas. The family uses controlled burns to combat invasive species. They also have their herd graze cover crops and crop residue, taking grazing pressure off of their pastures and helping to lower costs and dependence on harvested and purchased feed. The Koprivas enhance wildlife habitat on their ranch by leaving some acres on each quarter of their land for wildlife-friendly enhancements such as tree belt and extra wide fencerows.

Mortenson Family (Stanley County)

At the end of the 1940s, Clarence Mortenson began to wonder how all of the water originating on his ranch could be kept there for use over an extended period of time. This idea sparked his effort to restore the ranch to its natural state. Clarence's vision has been embraced by his sons, Todd, Jeff, and Curt, who currently operate Mortenson Ranch. In the 1980's, Todd learned about holistic management that moves cattle across the land similar to the movement of buffalo herds. In the spring, the herds graze on grasses in riparian areas while stamping seeds into the ground to help establish trees and grasses. In summer, the cattle are moved to the uplands.  In the 1990s, researchers observed a substantial increase in native tree and shrub species along the ranch's streams, as well as an impressive increase in wildlife populations. In addition, the Mortensons' efforts have led to a significant decrease in sediment flowing through creeks on the ranch. Due to practices like these, the family has come a long way since Clarence began his quest. More than 90 percent of the 19,000-acre ranch is back to native grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees.

Smeenk Family (Butte County)

Jeff Smeenk represents the fourth generation to live on and operate the family farm west of Newell. 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of the family's farm. Jeff operates the "Center of the Nation Cattle Company" with his wife, Kim, and his parents, Steve and Kay. The operation is primarily a cow/calf operation, utilizing a rest-rotation grazing system. The Smeenks also grow alfalfa, oats, sorghum sedan, corn and wheat on nearly 1,000 acres of deeded and leased acres. Jeff and Kim's philosophy is that they raise grass. Their rotational grazing plan involves resting one pasture for an entire year and utilizes the remaining pastures on a 50/50 basis. This ensures that there will be ample carryover grass if a drought hits and allows for grass in the rested pasture to be less stressed for an entire year, improving its quality. The family's water management strategy includes a 22,000-gallon storage tank that gravity feeds to water tanks at various locations throughout the pastures. The Smeenks installed eight miles of pipeline and nine water tanks, which are strategically placed to distribute the grazing habits of the livestock more evenly throughout the rangeland. Wildlife management efforts include an enhancement of the native plant community to improve sage-grouse habitat. The Smeenks manage their grassland to benefit wildlife, and their land is home to three species of concern: Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl and Chestnut Collared Longspur.

For more information, see www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

Source: SD Cattlemen's Association

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