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San Francisco, Calif., November 20, 2007 — Recognizing the significant contributions of leading California farmers and ranchers to environmental stewardship, Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation announce five finalists for the 2007 Leopold Conservation Award in California. Named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, it carries a $10,000 cash award. The Leopold Conservation Award is presented annually in six states to private landowners who practice exemplary land stewardship and management.

"These finalists, and the many other exceptional candidates, prove that California landowners' long-standing ethic of conservation continues to flourish," said Dr. Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation President.

2007 finalists:

  • Prather Ranch, Jim, Mary, and James Rickert - Shasta, Calif. (Shasta County)
  • Sierra Orchards, Craig McNamara - Winters, Calif. (Yolo County)
  • Three Creeks Ranch, Chet Vogt - Elk Creek, Calif. (Glenn County)
  • V6 Ranch, Jack Varian - Parkfield, Calif. (Monterey and Fresno counties)
  • Zylstra Dairy, Andy Zylstra - Turlock, Calif. (Stanislaus County)

(See bios below.)

The second-annual Leopold Conservation Award for California will be presented December 3, 2007 at the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Sparks, Nev.

A distinguished panel of experts must now make the difficult decision of selecting the 2007 Leopold Conservation Award recipient in California:

  • Ed Burton, State Conservationist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Mike Chrisman, Secretary for Resources, California Resources Agency
  • Mike Eaton, Resources Legacy Fund
  • Cornelius Gallagher, Senior Vice President, Bank of America
  • Ben Higgins, State Director, USDA Rural Development
  • A.G. Kawamura, Secretary, California Dept. of Food & Agriculture
  • Craig Manson, Former Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks

In California, the Leopold Conservation Award is presented by Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation. The California award is supported by S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, Audubon California, California Waterfowl Association, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and The Trust for Public Land, as well as media sponsors Capital Press Agriculture Weekly and Ag Alert.

In 2007, Sand County Foundation will present Leopold Conservation Awards in California, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah. The awards are presented to: recognize extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation on the land of exemplary private landowners; inspire countless other landowners in their own communities through these examples; and showcase conservation leaders in the agriculture community to people outside of agriculture. For more information, please visit

Sand County Foundation is a private, non-profit conservation group dedicated to working with private landowners to improve habitat on their land. Sand County's mission is to advance the use of ethical and scientifically sound land management practices and partnerships for the benefit of people and their rural landscapes. Sand County Foundation works with private landowners because the majority of the nation's fish, wildlife and natural resources are found on private lands. The organization backs local champions, invests in civil society and places incentives before regulation to create solutions that endure and grow. The organization encourages the exercise of private responsibility in the pursuit of improved land health as an essential alternative to many of the commonly used strategies in modern conservation.

Sustainable Conservation partners with business, agriculture, and government to find practical ways that the private sector can protect clean air, clean water, and healthy ecosystems. The independent nonprofit organization leads powerful collaborations that produce lasting solutions and sustain the vitality of both the economy and the environment in California.

The California Farm Bureau Federation is California's largest farm organization. It works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of 53 county Farm Bureaus throughout California, whose members include farm families and those who support the farming way of life.

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Prather Ranch, Jim, Mary, and James Rickert — Shasta, Calif. (Shasta County)
Managing cattle ranches and agricultural land in Northern California, the Rickert family works to promote biodiversity through their day-to-day operations, providing habitat for waterfowl during the migration and other wildlife year-round. They have planted more than eight miles of riparian habitat across nearly a dozen ranches.

Sierra Orchards, Craig McNamara — Winters, Calif. (Yolo County)
In addition to owning and managing a 450-acre organic walnut farm, Craig McNamara founded the Center for Land-Based Learning in 1993 to teach young people about agriculture and the environment. These programs now reach more than 2,000 students each year. Enhancing the watershed on his own land, he has improved water quality, removed invasive plants and established thriving wildlife habitat.

Three Creeks Ranch, Chet Vogt — Elk Creek, Calif. (Glenn County)
Chet Vogt's 5,300-acre ranch nourishes more than 500 beef cattle, and they in turn help restore the land. He moves the herd around the rangeland in a systematic way that creates intensive grazing for a short period of time, followed by a long period of rest and regrowth. He has protected clean water through fencing and troughs, which have fostered abundant vegetation around the ponds for birds and other wildlife.

V6 Ranch, Jack Varian — Parkfield, Calif. (Monterey and Fresno counties)
Jack Varian and his family have been raising cattle on the 17,000-acre V6 ranch for nearly 50 years with the intention to be good caretakers of the land. For example, to prevent erosion and support wildlife, he planted hundreds of willow and cottonwood trees along the creek that runs through the ranch. His system of rotating cattle through 50 pastures keeps the grass and the cattle healthy. To share their passion and expertise, Varian and his wife Zera host public cattle drives, round-ups and ecological tours.

Zylstra Dairy, Andy Zylstra — Turlock, Calif. (Stanislaus County)
Second-generation dairyman Andy Zylstra has introduced numerous environmentally friendly farming techniques to his 750-cow dairy farm. For example, conservation tillage cuts dust pollution (by up to 80%), fuel costs and labor costs, while enabling him to grow three crops a year instead of one or two - thereby utilizing more manure for fertilizer and keeping any excess nutrients out of the waterways.