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North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award goes to Sand Ranch

The Sand Ranch of Ellendale is the recipient of the 2021 North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award.

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Brad Sand is the winner of the North Dakota Leopold Award. Contributed by Sand County Foundation
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A rancher from Ellendale, north Dakota, in Dickey County will be presented $10,000 and a crystal award for being this year's Leopold Conservation Award recipient.

Brad Sand was selected during the North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts Annual Convention on Nov. 14.

Given to "private landowners that show diligence in the land and its conservation", the Leopold Conservation Award is presented in 14 states including North Dakota. Individuals who receive the award show "extraordinary achievement in the area of voluntary conservation."

“Ranchers and farmers take their jobs as stewards of the land and the livestock seriously. To us, it is not only how we make our living, but how we can ensure a legacy for future generations," said Jeff Schafer, president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association

Sand will receive $10,000 presented by the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts, the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association and the American Farmland Trusts.


"The way that Brad Sand manages his operation is an outstanding model in the implementation of voluntary conservation and outreach on the role private landowners play in conservation. He is a true inspiration for other landowners,” said Jerry Doan, NDGLC president.

The award is named after renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, who wrote the book “A Sand County Almanac” in 1949. Through the work, Leopold gave a "call to action for an ethical relationship between those who own the land and the land they own and manage," according to the Sand County Foundation.

“The North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts congratulates Brad Sand, recognizing his commitment to incorporating sound conservation practices to ensure the land will be productive for many generations to come,” said Brian Johnston, NDASCD CEO.

Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders, according to the Sand County Foundation. The other finalist for the award was Spring Valley Cattle of Glen Ullin in Morton County.

The first North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Black Leg Ranch from McKenzie in 2016. Last year’s recipient was Dockter-Jensen Ranch from Denhoff.

Sand Ranch

Sand Ranch’s 700 acres are located in the Drift Prairie physiographic region, and home to some of North America’s best grasslands and depressional Prairie Pothole wetlands.

Sand planted 12 rows of trees, each more than a mile long, with help from a local conservation group when he began cattle ranching in 1974.

“I did it for the wildlife, the soil and for my cattle,” said Sand.


The same can be said of his implementation of conservation practices.

“When you take an active role in making the land better, it’ll take care of you and the people who eat your food,” said Sand.

By using what he learned in classes and on ranch tours, Sand reduced the risk from volatile markets and extreme weather events.

“I enjoy using cattle to manage the resource,” he said.

Sand's rotational grazing strategy mimics how bison once roamed the prairie — short, intense bursts of grazing followed by a long recovery time for the grass. Sand also works with Ducks Unlimited to improve his grazing system and restore native grasses on marginally productive soils.

“Grazing cattle on this hayland has improved forage production,” he said. “Instead of constantly removing carbon, now I’m putting something back.”

Sand began planting cover crops in 2010 to provide even more feed, attract beneficial insect pollinators and improve the soil’s biology.

The fall of 2020 was especially dry, but Sand Ranch didn’t run out of grass. The healthy soil had held enough moisture to keep growing grass amid a drought.

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