Care for the land earns Leopold Award for Glenn County cattle rancher Chet Vogt
Innovation and dedication to protecting the land that sustains his family have earned recognition for a Northern California rancher. Chet Vogt of Elk Creek has received the 2008 Leopold Conservation Award for exemplary environmental stewardship, presented by Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation.
Vogt was recognized at the California Farm Bureau Federation's 90th Annual Meeting in Burlingame this week. He and his family received not only recognition but a check for $10,000 and a crystal award representing the extraordinary land ethic of legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold, for whom the award is named.
At his Three Creeks Ranch, Chet Vogt uses an approach called intensive managed grazing to support native grasses, increase water retention in soil and benefit his cattle.
"Chet Vogt has dedicated himself to innovation in environmentally beneficial ranching practices for three decades," said California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura, a judge for the Leopold Conservation Award. "He demonstrates the natural compatibility between raising cattle and caring for the land, and he inspires all ranchers and farmers to work from that understanding."
Vogt's Three Creeks Ranch in Glenn County is a 500 cow/calf operation that successfully integrates environmental and economic sustainability on 5,300 acres of winter rangeland, supplemented by a summer grazing permit.
The core of Vogt's holistic approach is intensive managed grazing, which rotates the cattle among 32 fenced paddocks so that each area experiences only about 15 days a year of grazing and about 350 days of rest. This supports native perennial grasses, healthy cattle and increased water retention in the soil.
Vogt has also fenced off riparian corridors and livestock ponds as special management zones. These zones receive short-duration grazing so that native plants can thrive and provide abundant nesting habitat for birds and other wildlife, including tricolored blackbirds, box turtles, California quail, black-tailed deer and many others.
He attributes his management approach to a long process of trial and error.
"If I were to measure failures and successes, the failures would have a lot more marks in the box than the successes," Vogt said. "We have had a lot of success, but pioneering so many of these management practices has led to a number of failures. There is no book written on what we are doing out here. We are writing the book as we go."
Vogt is widely respected for bridging the gap between cattle ranchers and environmental advocates, forging effective partnerships and cultivating productive, ongoing communication. He frequently hosts workshops and field trips on Three Creeks Ranch to educate ranchers, regulators and environmental scientists about his innovative practices.
He has held numerous community leadership positions and currently serves California Cattlemen's Association as the Rangeland Improvement Committee chairman. Vogt is actively involved with the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, which began in 2004 as a partnership among California Cattlemen's Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several environmental organizations to find common ground in rangeland conservation, and now encompasses nearly 100 agricultural, environmental and governmental organizations.
"It's exciting to see California farmers and ranchers like Chet Vogt who dedicate themselves to caring for the land and operating a profitable business," said award judge Cornelius Gallagher, a senior vice president of Bank of America. "He is a leader both in agriculture and in conservation, producing not only beef but also clean water and healthy wildlife habitat."
Other Leopold Award finalists this year included Steve and Jill Hackett of Howe Creek Ranch in Humboldt County and Alfred G. Montna of Montna Farms in Sutter County. Finalists received a check for $1,000 and automatically earn the opportunity to compete again next year.
Steve and Jill Hackett focus on ecological sustainability in managing 4,000 acres of cattle pasture and forestland.
Steve and Jill Hackett have taken a proactive approach to integrating ecological sustainability into their 4,000 acres of forests and cattle pastures, where the family has ranched and produced forest products for 95 years.
"I went away to college and I didn't realize what was here until I was gone," said Steve Hackett. "I had taken it all for granted."
Their forestry practices, cemented by a conservation easement, create corridors of mature forest and healthy watersheds that support salmon, spotted owls and other wildlife. The Hacketts' approach to management can be seen in everything they do on their land. They say they believe ownership is temporary, soil is everything and a landowner should never do harm to the land.
Their work in developing the California Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan is credited with injecting incentives and cooperation into ranch planning and program implementation, and with engaging environmental groups, industry groups and federal and state agencies effectively. The plan now involves more than 1 million acres of private California ranchland.
Sustainable conservation involves those in agriculture finding practical ways to protect water, air and land. Rice grower Al Montna does all three on his 2,500-acre farm in Sutter County. Through a variety of conservation practices, Montna has created extensive and much-needed habitat for wildlife on his property.
"We look at it as just part of our cultural practices on the farm," said Montna. "Our land is producing something 12 months a year, but without the agriculture the rest would not exist."
Al Montna incorporates a variety of conservation practices to create extensive wildlife habitat on his rice farm.
Montna led the way in replacing the practice of burning rice stubble with environmentally safe alternatives. He has also cut his water usage in half and has reduced pesticide runoff into the Sacramento River by 90 percent. This year, he installed a solar power system that helps power the Montna Farms Rice Dryer.
Known for bringing people together, he has held leadership positions in numerous organizations and public policy boards, such as the Northern California Water Association, California Bay-Delta Authority and State Board of Food and Agriculture.
"The Leopold Conservation Award shines a spotlight on the California farmers, ranchers and foresters around the state who demonstrate the conservation ethic through responsible management of the land and natural resources," said California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar. "It's important not only to recognize their achievements but also to inspire other landowners to take a more active role in protecting and restoring the environment."
The Leopold Conservation Award is presented to recognize extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation by exemplary private landowners, inspire other landowners and showcase these conservation leaders to people outside of agriculture.
In 2008, Sand County Foundation presented Leopold Conservation Awards in seven states: California, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Utah. In California, Sand County Foundation presents the award in partnership with Sustainable Conservation and California Farm Bureau Federation, and with the support of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, Audubon California, California Waterfowl Association, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and The Trust for Public Land.
To watch a short video about the 2007 finalists and winner, visit www.sandcounty.net.