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A group of women landowners and conservation professionals tour the Edward M. Brigham III Alkali Lake Sanctuary near Spiritwood, N.D., on June 5, 2018. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Summer events expose women landowners to conservation

SPIRITWOOD, N.D. — Pheasants Forever has kicked off a summer full of women-centric events to expose female landowners to conservation ideas and professionals.

A June 5 event at the Edward M. Brigham III Alkali Lake Sanctuary near Spiritwood, N.D., was the first of eight Women Caring for the Land conferences scheduled across North Dakota this summer.

The Women Caring for the Land model was created by the Women, Food and Agriculture Network as a way to reach women farmland owners who are interested in learning more about conservation, explained Cayla Bendel, women in conservation coordinator for Pheasants Forever. The program is geared toward non-operating female landowners — such as landowners who lease their land to producers or women whose significant others farm or ranch but who personally have little involvement in the operation — or new ranchers and farmers.

The rationale for the model, according to the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, is that a large portion of women landowners are older than 65 and many have not had much say in farm management in the past. The program strives to work with women who want to have their land farmed sustainably. The Women, Food and Agriculture Network doesn't have enough staff to implement their Women Caring for the Land model everywhere themselves, so other groups, including Pheasants Forever, have adopted it as well.

Cayla Bendel is the women in conservation coordinator for Pheasants Forever.Bendel said Women Caring for the Land events seek to make women comfortable by having attendees sit in circles, where everyone can see everyone, and allowing everyone to make long introductions to explain their perspectives. Conservation professionals also participate, giving the same information about themselves and what they do.

Attendance was slight at the Spiritwood event, with conservation professionals greatly outnumbering landowners. Bendel said attendance has varied greatly from event to event, with some garnering dozens of landowners and others only a handful.

A new audience

Bendel was hired by Pheasants Forever in July 2017 and last fall held two Women Caring for the Land events. This summer, she has scheduled events across North Dakota, each with a different focus.

The June 5 focus was on grassland bird conservation. Ranchers Kristine Ryun, of Woodworth, N.D., and Deanna Sand, of Forbes, N.D., gave their perspectives on ranching and conservation. Later, conservation professionals gave their perspectives and backgrounds.

Sarah Hewitt, conservation programs manager at Audubon Dakota, gives a tour of the Edward M. Brigham III Alkali Lake Sanctuary.That gave Sarah Hewitt, conservation programs manager at Audubon Dakota, a chance to talk about raising "bird-friendly beef," part of an Audubon Society program in which conservation professionals work with ranchers to ensure management of their grazing lands meets standards to protect habitat for grassland birds. The resulting beef can be sold with a label touting that it was raised using "bird-friendly" practices, giving ranchers a potentially more lucrative market. So far there are three ranches in the program in North Dakota, six in South Dakota and many in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Missouri. Interest also is growing in Nebraska, Montana and California, Hewitt said.

Rotational grazing has revitalized grasses at the Edward M. Brigham III Alkali Lake Sanctuary.Later, Hewitt took the participants on a walking tour of the Edward M. Brigham III Alkali Lake Sanctuary, explaining how the grasses there are being revitalized by a more intensive rotational grazing system, in which the land has been divided into 29 units and the stocking rate has been increased to take care of overgrown plant species.

By hosting Women Caring for the Land events, a new group of people with a stake in the land can hear about such programs.

"We're really trying to reach a new audience," Bendel said.

Each of the events includes a female landowner explaining and displaying the conservation practices put in place on her land. At a June 13 event in Bowman County, Amanda Njos explained how her family has used winter bale grazing, water infrastructure, fencing and enrolling in the Conservation Stewardship Program to increase productivity and profitability. The following events are scheduled for the rest of the summer.

• June 20 in McLean County: Annie Carlson will explain how her Morning Joy Farm uses livestock, including chicken, turkey, pigs, sheep and cattle to regenerate the land.

• July 12 in McIntosh County: Deanna Sand will talk about how her family's ranch has implemented rotational grazing and winter grazing on harvested fields in order to allow pasture to rest.

• July 26 in Sheridan County: Eden McLeod will display her family's use of the Conservation Reserve Program, berry and shrub plantings and pollinator plots to increase value in low-producing areas.

• July 30 in McLean County: Krista Reiser will explain how her family's native pasture is managed for diversity to promote soil health and animal nutrition.

Other events are scheduled for Aug. 8 in Steele County and Aug. 16 in Grand Forks County. Each event costs $10, and lunch is included. For more information or to RSVP, contact Bendel at 701-498-2920 or