Environmental stewardship is taking personal responsibility to care for natural resources and ensuring sustainability for future generations. For cattlemen, this means practicing conservation, regeneration and restoration. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) has honored such stewards for 17 years via its environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP).

This year, six cattle operations were chosen as regional winners from industry organization nominations. From these, one will be named as the national honoree at the 2008 Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in Reno, NV, Feb. 6-9.

“The six regional winners have made extensive efforts to work closely with their local communities and government agencies, including USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to implement conservation programs that benefit everyone,” the 2007 ESAP selection committee writes. “These folks showcase how the implementation of cooperative research efforts, educational events and government programs can really pay off.”

The ESAP selection committee consists of past award winners, university faculty, federal and state agencies and environmental organizations. It's administered by NCBA and sponsored by Dow AgroServices LLC and NRCS.

Nominations are open for the 2008 ESAP and will be accepted until March 14. Visit www.beefusa.org/esap for more information.

Region I

Sunrise Club Calves, Shippenville, PA

Paul and Beth Wingard specialize in producing club calves and educating the next generation of agricultural leaders. Continuing the family farm began by Paul's parents in 1942, the Wingards run 70 cow-calf pairs and 10 yearlings on 125 acres.

Innovative practices include the use of hog slats for river crossings, and boer goats for weed control and additional income. They also utilize more than 15,000 ft. of high-tensile fencing for rotational grazing and to restrict cattle from stream corridors.

“What's good for the environment is also good for the farmer, his cattle, his neighbors and the rest of the planet,” the Wingards say.

Pennsylvania's Growing Greener program helps provide funding for stabilizing areas at Sunrise Club Calves. Partnerships with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Farm/Game Project provide seedlings that the Wingards plant for food and cover; they also keep property open to public hunting and trapping.

By working with NRCS and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wingards receive technical assistance to plan and implement water resources for cattle and wildlife, reduce erosion, preserve pasture forage, improve woodlands and manage animal waste.

The family is active in the local community and hosts farm groups and educational tours. Through participation in Pennsylvania Project Grass, Clarion County Graziers, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and local 4-H clubs, the Wingards invest and implement sound environmental and conservation practices.

Region II

Dee River Ranch, Aliceville, AL

Located on the Alabama-Mississippi state line, Dee River Ranch is a family-owned farm operated by Mike Dee and his sister Annie. It includes 10,000 acres — 2,500 acres set aside for forages and cattle, 4,000 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and 3,500 acres in corn, wheat and soybeans.

Maintaining productive soils is a top priority on the Dee River Ranch's cropland; highly erodable, environmentally sensitive land; and hay/grazing land. The Dees have worked to improve pasture management and control erosion. On-surface water monitoring now indicates little, if any, soil erosion from pastures.

By working with NRCS and Alabama Cooperative Extension Systems, Mike developed a comprehensive plan to reduce sedimentation and erosion and improve water quality. He identified three high-use, problem-causing areas: gates, water troughs and working facilities. A combination of geo-textile cloth and gravel was applied around all water troughs and under all gates. In 2006, the Dees completed construction on new working facilities away from surface water.

In addition, Mike cross-fenced all pastures and implemented an intensive rotational grazing program to preserve ground cover.

Via its partnerships, the Dee River Ranch hosts producer tours, educational studies and conservation programs. One such partnership is in conjunction with the Alabama Rural Medicine Program where Dee River Ranch serves as a learning laboratory for medical students enrolled in the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

Region III

Oak Knoll Ranch, Salem, MO

Leon and Helen Kreisler own and operate Oak Knoll Ranch, a 100-head, cow-calf operation comprised of 360 owned acres and 120 acres on a long-term lease. Their commercial Angus herd runs on 380 acres of grass with 100 acres in timber production. The Kreislers also provide limited hunting leases.

Years ago, the Missouri Department of Conservation provided initial funding for the Kreislers' grazing system. The duo also utilized NRCS technical assistance in designing a water system and prescribed burns. As a result, the Kreislers became one of the organizing members of the Advanced Graziers Group.

“The Kreislers have been very proactive in promoting sound grassland management that is economically viable and ecologically sustainable,” says Eric Bright of the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative.

When designing their management-intensive grazing system, water location and availability were limiting factors. Therefore, the Kreislers installed seven fountain waterers, five tire tanks and two freeze-proof concrete waterers off two wells and 13 ponds. All ponds are fenced for limited access.

Due to the rotation of animals and non-confinement, manure is evenly distributed throughout the acreage. To provide wildlife habitat, the Kreislers diversified the forage base, installed a multitude of bluebird and purple martin birdhouses and leave brush-piles from forestry thinning.

The family operation has been able to accomplish its goals of increasing its cattle herd while not increasing acreage or fertilizer inputs. Utilizing available resources, Oak Knoll Ranch only feeds hay for 20-40 days/year.

Region IV

Roaring Springs Ranch, Frenchglen, OR

Purchased in 1992 by the Bob and Jane Sanders and Rob and Carla Sanders families, Roaring Springs Ranch is a cow-calf/stocker operation sustaining more than 6,200 cows and calves and 150 horses, and harvesting 2,500 acres of meadow hay and 1,200 acres of alfalfa.

Utilizing more than one million acres of diverse lands, including leases from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), state of Oregon and private leases, the family's main goal, as implemented by ranch manager Stacy Davies, is to be economically, ecologically and socially sustainable. The ranch's vast size and elevation variance provides high-quality forage for year-round grazing. By matching the livestock production cycle with the native plant nutrition provided by stewardship efforts, the use of stored feeds has been eliminated on the ranch.

Partnerships and cooperative agreements are a major focus in halting invasive species, improving wildlife habitat, educating future agriculturalists and implementing proper management techniques.

The ranch initiated and implemented the nationally recognized Catlow Valley Fishes Conservation Agreement, which sought to remove threats to the native fish species and reestablish them to their native range. In cooperation with BLM, it also instituted a prescribed fire program on 100,000 acres to restore upland watershed health, which not only benefited the watershed but increased wildlife and livestock forage.

“In our experience dealing with grazing management issues, we've never encountered such a strong commitment to improve the land as demonstrated by this ranch owner and ranch manger,” says Monty Montgomery of the Izaak Walton League of America.

Region V

Yolo Land & Cattle Co., Woodland, CA

Located outside Sacramento, CA, Yolo Land & Cattle Co., a family-owned limited partnership, is a cow-calf, stocker and registered cattle operation. Run by Henry Stone and his sons, the operation encompasses more than 12,000 acres of deeded and leased acres dedicated to cattle production and farming.

The Stones developed an evaluation process that asks a series of five questions to help determine a new project's feasibility, benefits, education value, research potential, economic viability and environmental impact. Some of the projects to which the Stones have applied this evaluation include: a vegetative management plan, rotational grazing, grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands and invasive weed control.

Among the important measures that have assisted Yolo Land & Cattle Co. in its forage production and conservation efforts is the clearing of a 30-acre parcel plagued by erosion and invasive weeds. After eight years of cultivation, the parcel is now a lush riparian area with native perennial vegetation.

Carbon sequestration is another focus. Partnering with NRCS, the University of California-Davis and USDA's Agricultural Research Service, the project seeks to measure the amount of carbon stored in the roots of perennial grasses and compare it to the amount of carbon stored in the roots of annual grasses.

“Rarely does one get to work with a family of farmers and ranchers as knowledgeable, progressive and pleasant as the Stones,” says Stephen Jaouen, NRCS Range Management Specialist.

Region VI

Alexander Ranch,Sun City, KS

The Alexander Ranch, located just north of the Oklahoma-Kansas state line, is a 7,000-acre, custom grazing operation stocking 500-700 cow-calf pairs or 2,500 yearlings in a rotational grazing method. When beneficial to the management of the stockpiled forage, cattle are also custom grazed during the winter months.

Environmental enhancements to the land include: removal of invasive Eastern Red Cedar trees, development of livestock water sources, improvement of forage productivity and increased native plant and wildlife diversity. The ranch is divided into three grazing cells, each consisting of smaller paddocks of acreage.

The ranch works with NRCS and recently utilized the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to install a water system to expand grazing capabilities.

In addition, the ranch is home to many wildlife and aquatic species that are candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“Many leaders in the grazing industry have sought Ted's experience to test grazing drought management models due to his own implementation of a drought plan that keeps him on the target — the sustainability of the native rangeland resource with which he is entrusted,” says David Kraft, NRCS rangeland management specialist.

The ranch's management of grazing lands has contributed to a 100% increase in stocking since 1984, maintained individual animal performance and increased the pounds of beef produced per acre while adhering to the goals of improved water quality and quantity, and healthy soils and native rangelands.