Meet the 2021 California Leopold Conservation Award Finalists

Photos: Paolo Vescia for Sustainable Conservation.

When it comes to keeping California leading in conservation, our landowners are key front-line defenders of the environment. Over 50% of all land in California is privately owned, and how people manage this land has a dramatic effect on our environment, from combatting climate change, to boosting clean air and water, to protecting wildlife.

Leopold Conservation Award

The Leopold Conservation Award inspires other landowners by example and provides a visible forum where farmers, ranchers and other private landowners are recognized as conservation leaders. Award co-sponsors Sand County Foundation, the California Farm Bureau FederationAmerican Farmland Trust and Sustainable Conservation are pleased to be able to highlight three more fantastic finalists this year – the statewide award’s 16th year. Congratulations, all!

Meet the Finalists

Beretta Family Dairy of Sonoma County – The Beretta family has farmed on their organic dairy for three generations with local watershed health top of mind. Taught that you should only milk as many cows as the land can handle, Doug Beretta and his family’s conservation wins include using reclaimed wastewater through the City of Santa Rosa since 1981 for irrigation, clean water diversion with NRCS, installing equipment to help compost the dairy’s manure solids, and working with CDFA’s Healthy Soils program to use this compost in conjunction with no-till, prescribed grazing and other soil-health-boosting practices. The dairy’s grazing operations and management reduce fire fuels in their watershed and provide habitat for local wildlife. The Beretta Family are early adopters of a voluntary water credit trading program, and regularly serve on trade organization and local Boards to model farming leadership as well as sustainable practices in their industry.

Stemple Creek Ranch of Marin County – The Poncias have farmed near Tomales, California for four generations. Loren and Lisa Poncia take great pride in their herds and how they manage their land to build organic matter and carbon in their soil. From ensuring migratory birds have habitat on their lands to planting trees, fencing riparian areas to protect critically endangered species and working early with the Marin Carbon Project as one of their three demonstration farms, the Poncias reduce their off-site feed, harvest their animals year-round and boast more than 50 species of birds, owls, ducks and bees on their property. They regularly host soil scientists from around the world on their property to continue improving and refining their sequestration efforts, and have adapted their business practices over the past two years to meet the significant challenges facing us all.

Witcher Creek Ranch of Modoc County –The Naders traded their portion of their historically family-owned ranch in 1999 for the 2880-acre Witcher Creek Ranch, and quickly established a plan to balance the land’s ranching practices, resilient grazing pastures and extensive wildlife habitat. The Naders’ organic hay and cattle grazing operations include rotational grazing efforts that made riparian restoration on the property possible. Multiple restoration projects rejuvenated miles of riparian habitat, and extensive, long-term monitoring of these sites through photography, stream temperature data collection, soil sampling and forage testing gives the Naders consistent and actionable data on the health of the ranch’s natural resources. Marie and Glenn often present to and teach in their agricultural community and across California, and host regular ranch field tours.

The 2021 California Leopold Conservation Award will be presented in December at the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting. The award recipient will receive $10,000 and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold.

The California Leopold Conservation Award is made possible thanks to generous contributions from many organizations, including The Harvey L. & Maud S. Sorensen Foundation, Farm Credit, The Nature Conservancy in California, McDonald’s and California LCA recipient alumni.

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