The idea seems simple, yet timeless and important: Recognize Nebraskans who are outstanding stewards of land and water resources.
“Conservation is not simply a practice to be reserved for emergencies or undertaken when convenient,” The World-Herald said in announcing the first Master Conservationist Award recipients in 1983. Those winners “realize that conservation is necessary to responsible farming and essential to their region’s future.”
The honors were the idea of then-World-Herald publisher Harold W. Andersen and D.B. “Woody” Varner, then president of the University of Nebraska. The purpose was to salute outstanding practitioners and bring conservation awareness to both urban and rural residents.
As Varner said then, “The loss of our topsoil is staggering. If it is not curtailed, somewhere down the road our children and grandchildren will pay a terrible price.” Over three decades, these awards have recognized those whose dedicated efforts have helped keep us from paying that terrible price.
This year’s honorees exemplify some of the best Nebraska has to offer when it comes to preserving and protecting the state’s natural resources.
Scott Stout of Curtis, a partner in the N&N ranching enterprise, was honored in the agriculture production category. His approach to ranching emphasizes sustainability of resources, and he is the “burn boss” for the Loess Canyon Rangeland Alliance, an initiative of about 50 landowners and ranchers committed to preserving native grassland. Since Stout took charge of prescribed burns, the alliance has reclaimed more than 3,100 acres of native land.
In the community category, the award went to the Six Mile Canal Co. of Gothenburg. A 2010 agreement with the Central Platte Natural Resources District implemented a groundwater irrigation system that allows some 42 million gallons of water to be returned to the Platte River each year. That has resulted in increased protection for endangered species and other wildlife, while farmers have enjoyed lower fuel and labor costs along with improved efficiency.
Farms and ranches cover more than 45 million acres of the state’s land, about 93 percent, and cash receipts from farm marketings contribute about $22 billion to the Nebraska economy.
Stewardship of the state’s natural resources is as important today as ever. The work of the 2013 Master Conservationists will help make Nebraska a better place for a long time to come.