LINCOLN — A ranch family that has been part of the fabric of the Nebraska Sand Hills for nearly 130 years was honored Friday for its stewardship of the land, water and wildlife.
Gov. Dave Heineman announced the Buell family of Bassett as winners of the 2012 Leopold Conservation Award.
The award, named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is presented to agricultural families in Nebraska who practice responsible land stewardship and management.
The Buell family legacy in the Sand Hills began when Benjamin Franklin Buell settled in the area in 1882. Today the Shovel Dot Ranch is owned and managed by brothers Larry and Homer Buell and their wives, Nickie and Darla, respectively.
Heineman called the family a role model and example for other private landowners for preserving the natural beauty of Nebraska.
"The Buells continue to maintain and expand upon an environment in which water quality and the region's native plant life and animal habitat can flourish alongside livestock and crop production," he said.
Homer Buell said each generation of the family has tried to manage and improve the land with the knowledge and technology available.
"The land, without a doubt, is our biggest resource, and so we have to manage it well," he said. "It has to be there for us — the grass, the wildlife — not just for one year or five years or 10 years but for the next generations."
With the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Buells installed high-tensile electric fencing and more than 50 miles of pipelines to water one hundred pastures.
This allows for more effective cattle distribution, giving pastures more rest between grazing periods, which leads to improved recovery, better ground cover, and increased production.
The family's management decisions also benefit wildlife. The Buells fenced off about 50 acres around two lakes to provide habitat for deer, turkeys, swans, ducks and geese.
Abundant vegetation along two creeks on the ranch attracts several native wildlife species, and trees are planted to provide windbreaks for cattle and habitat for turkey and deer.
The Sand County Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Madison, Wis., teams up with local groups to present awards in eight states.
In Nebraska, the program is co-sponsored by the Nebraska Cattlemen and Cargill.
Winners receive $10,000 and a Leopold crystal.
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