The 2015 California Leopold Conservation Award was presented this week at the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in Reno, Nev. The recipient, honored for private landowner achievement in the voluntary stewardship and management of natural resources, was Prather Ranch, a working cattle ranch headquartered in Macdoel, near Mount Shasta in Northern California.
The Sand County Foundation, the Farm Bureau, and Sustainable Conservation work together to determine the annual winner of the Leopold Conservation Award, which is given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. In his influential 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac”, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”
Prather Ranch is owned and managed by Jim and Mary Rickert. Under their management, the ranch has grown in size, implemented conservation enhancements, and established several permanent conservation easements. Over the last 35 years, Prather Ranch has continually collaborated with diverse partners to enhance the land and promote land stewardship in the community.
One of the ranch’s first efforts to promote biodiversity was taking an unusual approach to managing wild rice fields. After harvest, they began tilling the stubble into the soil and keeping their fields covered in water year-round. The practice not only benefited common species of waterfowl such as Canadian geese and snow geese, but it also attracted shore birds like plovers and terns, previously found only on the coast.
Through conservation easements in cooperation with the Shasta Land Trust, the Rickerts have preserved some of the state’s most spectacular wildflowers, and protected sensitive vernal pools and riparian areas. Prather Ranch has also planted several miles of riparian habitat along streams and irrigation canals to benefit a wide range of animals such as the California quail and the endangered Shasta crayfish.
The Leopold Conservation Award program inspires other landowners through these examples and provides a visible forum where farmers, ranchers and other private landowners are recognized as conservation leaders.