VALE, S.D. (KEVN) - Four finalists have been selected for the prestigious 2019 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award. It's given in honor of Aldo Leopold, recognizing private landowners inspiring others with their dedication to the land, water and wildlife resources in their care.
We talked with one of the finalists in Butte County about their conservation efforts.
"You know, we started rotational grazing in the late 1980s and we had a place that was kinda fenced for it already and tried it and it worked so well that we just implemented it on the whole ranch," said Britton Blair.
The Blair Brothers Angus Ranch is a multi-generational business.
"We've been here for 100 years and we want to be here 100 years again. The best way to do that is through conservation and improving your environment," said Blair.
It runs on around 25,000 acres, with the same amount leased, and the family is making an impact.
"Leaving a lot of grass when you leave a pasture and just allowing that grass to rest which is probably the more natural way. We bought a ranch five years ago that had sage grouse on it and that becomes kind of a conservation effort for us," said Blair.
Keeping that wildlife around is important and definitely talked about throughout the area. Through a Natural Resources Conservation Service program, a ramp is put into cattle water tanks, allowing birds a way out if they get stuck.
"Mostly just leaving the grass better, improving that range condition, improving species and population of the grass."
The family is also finding ways to survive droughts.
"We did a study in the early 2000s when it was really droughty and just kept with our rotations and kept with our management and actually improved range conditions through a drought. It takes some other management efforts, but you can just keep your stuff going all the time."
Spending a lot of time, money and hard work to continue conservation efforts.
"Big part of the ranch has been to add water lines. It allows you to spread out the grazing a lot more and utilize all your pastures and increase range condition."
And, of course, spreading awareness and education to those who might not understand.
"If we do a good job of managing natural resources from what the cover is on the soil throughout the landscape all the way to making wise sound decisions, we can avoid a lot of problems that a lot of taxpayer dollars go to fix," said USDA District Conservationist Tanse Herrmann.
The Blair family have also planted trees that provide shelterbelts and utilize no-till farming practices to reduce erosion and conserve moisture in the soil.
The winner for this year's award will be announced by Governor Kristi Noem on Earth Day, which is Monday, April 22. The winner receives $10,000 and a crystal depicting Leopold at the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association's Annual Convention in December.
For more information on NRCS, click here.