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Applications open for conservation mentorship

Shared knowledge through mentorship advances conservation.

Award-winning, conservation-minded landowners will soon be sharing their knowledge by serving as mentors for historically underserved farmers and ranchers.

A $250,000 Conservation Collaboration Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will fund Sand County Foundation’s two-year pilot project to promote conservation outreach by its award recipients.

“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are ambassadors who regularly discuss the importance of agricultural conservation with their peers and the general public. This project will empower our network of award recipients to share a range of knowledge, from how to apply for an NRCS conservation program to technical assistance, with an important audience,” says Heidi Peterson, Sand County Foundation’s vice president of agricultural research and conservation.

Since 2003, the Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award has recognized nearly 150 farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners nationwide for their efforts to improve soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

“Research shows that awareness of conservation programs is one of three key challenges for historically underserved producers, along with access to land for expansion and available credit,” Peterson says. “Networking and knowledge-sharing about conservation practices is a significant predictor of conservation practice adoption.”

“While there is no need to create new programs, there is a need to transfer program knowledge to others. Sand County Foundation’s method is a great way to transfer this knowledge to underserved groups,” Denise Coleman, Pennsylvania State Conservationist for the USDA NRCS says.

The USDA defines historically underserved farmers and ranchers as those with limited resources, and those who are beginners, military veterans, or members of a socially disadvantaged group. Research shows that historically underserved farmers and ranchers are more likely to operate on environmentally-sensitive land near water bodies.

“Historically underserved farmers and ranchers face many challenges. Knowing someone to ask about a conservation practice can build confidence and have a lasting impact,” Dick Cates says. Cates is a Wisconsin farmer who received the Leopold Conservation Award in 2013. “I look forward to participating as a mentor.”

The project’s title, “Empowering Landowners by Advancing a Land Ethic,” is a nod to renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land. He inspired landowners to adopt what he called a land ethic: a moral responsibility to treat land, water, and wildlife with respect.

Sand County Foundation is a national nonprofit based in Wisconsin, that works at the intersection of agriculture and environmental improvement. For more than 50 years, Sand County Foundation has evaluated and demonstrated conservation practices with farmers, ranchers, foresters, and businesses. These efforts produce clean water, healthy soil, abundant wildlife habitat, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

For a list of the conservation mentors, click here.

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