Conserving for future generations
February/March 2012 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Tracy Sellers
Photos by Paolo Vescia
How do you measure the contributions of a farmer or rancher? The finalists for the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award said they gauge their success by the relationship they have developed with their land.
"For me, to define the term 'steward of the land' means that you've been lucky enough to be given the responsibility to maintain resources for this generation and for future generations," said Alameda County rancher Tim Koopmann. "It is our responsibility to make the resources better than when we found them."
Koopmann won the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes landowner achievements in voluntary conservation and public education. In California, the award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation. The S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and the Nature Conservancy are major sponsors as well.
Ward and Rose Burroughs and Bill Lyons Jr. of Stanislaus County were the other finalists for the award. The award committee said all demonstrate an "unwavering dedication" to protecting soil, conserving water and safeguarding wildlife.
2011 Leopold Conservation Award Winner
Tim, Cari, Clayton and Melinda Koopmann
Tim Koopmann, Koopmann Ranch
Sunol, Alameda County
Third-generation rancher Tim Koopmann calls the family ranch his slice of rural heaven. It's where he, wife Melinda and children Clayton and Cari raise cows and calves.
Once nestled in a remote area of the East Bay, the 900-acre parcel now sits at the epicenter of the rural-urban interface—a golf course to the north, a housing development to the east and Interstate 680 to the west.
But the family has persevered. Along with maintaining their ranching heritage, the Koopmanns have dedicated themselves to sustainable conservation of their land.
By working with local, state and federal officials, Tim Koopmann established wildlife easements on the ranch, which have helped to protect the threatened California tiger salamander and red-legged frog. He has also installed solar-powered pumps that draw from a spring and bring water to places that hadn't had any, which has helped to preserve riparian habitats. In addition, visitors to the ranch will often find deer, Western bluebirds, nesting golden eagles, Western pond turtles and other wildlife.
For Koopmann, embracing stewardship with enthusiasm is a trait he said he inherited from his ancestors, and something he hopes to pass to future generations.
"One of the most rewarding parts for me is that my family takes as much pride in seeing wildlife on the ranch as I do," he said. "It definitely makes all the hard work worth it."
2011 Leopold Conservation Award Finalist
Ward, Rose, Zeb and Meridith Burroughs
Ward and Rose Burroughs, Burroughs Family Farms
Denair, Stanislaus County
Ward and Rose Burroughs believe in using wisdom from the past to help incorporate new ideas into their century-old family farm.
The Burroughses specialize in organic almonds and pasture-based dairy and beef and, during the past decade, have implemented a wide variety of conservation plans. For example, their cows graze year-round under a managed intensive grazing method that helps enhance the biological activity of the soil and optimizes the health of the herd.
The family also maintains a closed loop of resources for their cattle, which receive approximately 80 percent of their nutrition from pasture and forage. By working with a local biologist, the Burroughses assure that those same pastures provide a home for dozens of native flowers and plants and a diverse population of birds and mammals.
For the Burroughs family, ranching is more than a way to make a living.
"It isn't work, but it's life," Rose Burroughs said. "Our philosophy is that we're here in life for a very short time and it's our responsibility to do the best job we can while we're here."
The key, Ward Burroughs said, "is to pass the resource down to the next generation so they can run with it and make a successful run in agriculture, too."
2011 Leopold Conservation Award Finalist
Bill Lyons Jr.
Bill Lyons Jr., Mape's Ranch
Modesto, Stanislaus County
For Bill Lyons Jr., farming isn't just about the cattle; it's about working together, finding common ground and protecting the environment—all of which he does on the ranch he and his family have run for nearly 90 years.
Lyons' history in contributing to conservation and restoration projects on the property include his voluntary efforts and partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By working with the service, he and his family were critical to the recovery of the Aleutian goose and its subsequent removal from the Endangered Species Act list.
Lyons, a former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, has maximized water efficiency and has installed modernized irrigation and drainage systems throughout the ranch. In addition, he uses a thorough management system to control cattle grazing and—in a partnership with Stanislaus County and local food processors—diverts tons of fruit and vegetable byproducts such as stems, peels and leaves from the landfill, by using them as a soil amendment.
Over the years, Lyons has remained committed to running a successful family farm while continuing to protect and preserve Central Valley environmental resources.
"I've found that there's a lot of opportunity for agriculture to work with the environment and conservationists," he said.
Tracy Sellers email@example.com