The Leopold Conservation Award was given to a rancher from Morgan, Utah. The award recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. Conservationist Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”
Fred Thurston’s great grandfather was one of the first to settle the area, sent by the Brigham Young, prophet of the LDS Church. Thurston’s sons and grandsons work on the operation. At 89 years old, he’s still involved with the family ranch.
Thurston has been involved with conservation his entire life and even served as chairman of local conservation board for 30 years.
“So we have applied every year until this year for it,” Thurston said. “Through different things that I’ve learned, different projects that I’ve done here, why we kept adding that onto our resume. So finally we have a resume that finally they picked me to be the winner of it this year.”
One of the main projects Thurston took on was the dry farm area of the operation.
“When we first starting farming up there we used to farm right through the little hollows and gullies and everything,” Thurston said. “It kept washing it away. I don’t know how many years ago it was, I come up with the idea of planting grass in every one of those little water ways and leaving it alone.”
Thurston said cows now graze the hollows and gullies instead. When the spring run-off comes every year, the roots hold the soil in place, preventing erosion. On the dry farm, Thurston said irrigation and construction projects provide a pond consistently full of water, benefiting his and operation and wildlife.
“We try and keep water in there for the cows and the deer,” Thurston said. “We have a few elk that traipse around through our dry farm. I don’t know how many different piles of birds we have up there, but we have a bunch of them.
Thurston said he feeds calves during the winter in an enclosure close to the Weber River. In order to keep manure out of the river and ground water, he built a large structure surrounding the enclosure.
“We have a complete outfit all the way around here,” Thurston said. “We put a four-foot wall, six inches wide and it has metal on top of that. It sits on a pad that’s twelve feet wide and six inches deep of concrete. So our water and manure is completely contained in that area where we feed the calves.”
Staying connected with the community is also a priority for Thurston. He said the public has fishing access to the ranch. Thurston says working to conserve natural resources is the best way to be a successful rancher.