LINCOLN — The Switzer family of Loup County joined Gov. Pete Ricketts Wednesday for an announcement that they won this year’s Leopold Conservation Award.
Five generations of the family have been involved with their Sand Hills ranch, according to the Sand County Foundation, which sponsors the award. Current family members include Bruce and Sue Ann Switzer; their children, Sarah Sortum and Adam Switzer; and five grandchildren.
In addition to custom grazing beef cattle on 12,000 acres of native prairie, the Switzer family operates a nature-based tourism business. Calamus Outfitters provides lodging, event space, river float trips and eco-tours of the area.
The family has used actively managed grazing and controlled burns to maintain the health of their land. In particular, they have focused on changes to help the survival of the greater prairie-chicken and the sharp-tailed grouse, two native birds that have suffered from the loss of habitat.
Their efforts led to an uptick in bird watchers visiting the ranch, including for a springtime Prairie Chicken Festival, and the designation by Audubon Nebraska as an important bird area.
30 spectacular Nebraska vistas
A midsummer storm moves noisily and colorfully across the Badlands north of Harrison. The colorless, sedimentary layers laid down by an ancient ocean, now exposed and eroded, are temporarily awash with color.
Sandhills ridge top
A mule deer doe and fawn survey the landscape at sunset from a Sandhills ridge top in Cherry County.
Hoarfrost on Snake River Falls
Fed by Sandhills springs via Merritt Reservoir, the Snake River seldom freezes. Mist rising from its falls, however, will coat everything around it with hoarfrost in sub-zero weather.
Fall color at Indian Cave State Park from scenic overlook on loop road.
Sunset near Calamus
A windmill is silhouetted against an orange and red sunset near Calamus Reservoir in Sherman County.
Lightning near Chadron
Lightning decorates the sky above a patch of badlands west of Chadron in 2014.
Cloaked in early morning light and fog, the Niobrara River evokes nature's ethereal beauty and mystery as it flows through Cherry County.
Sioux County sunrise
Bull elk at sunrise in Sioux County.
Wagon Train scene
Wagon Train Lake State Recreation Area near Hickman. Matt and Amy Ludwig of Adams kayaking at sunrise in 2013.
Mexican Canyon Road
Sunset along the Mexican Canyon Road at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford in Dawes County.
Goose hunters setting out decoys on the Platte River in Hall County.
Ponca State Park
The Missouri National Recreation River Visitor and Education Center at Ponca State Park in Dixon County is shown here.
A full moon hangs over grasslands and a windmill in Sioux County in 2014.
Chat Canyon Wildlife Management Area in Cherry County, acquired in 2013 and opened in 2014 in cooperation with Nebraska Forest Service as the state's first Forestry and Wildlife Management Area.
Buttes in winter in Nebraska.
North Platte River
The North Platte River near Lewellen. Canada geese and mallards swim in the wintry early morning mist.
The tallgrass prairie on Nine-Mile Prairie turns to fall colors in 1996.
The still water at Grabel Ponds reflects the colors of fall at Fort Robinson State Park.
Platte River sunset
The Platte River from the Lincoln Journal Tower at sunset, with the Lied Platte River Bridge (the converted Rock Island Railroad bridge) pictured.
A passing thunderstorm and lightning in Sandhills rangeland and meadows in the northwest corner of Cherry County.
Game and Parks Commission Fisheries and Parks division employees prepare to work on Lake Ogallala renovations as the sun rises in 1997.
Toadstool Geological Park
Toadstool Geological Park in the Badlands north of Crawford in Sioux County at sunrise.
Sun reflects on clouds
The setting sun at Prairie Wolf Wildlife Management Area in Nance County reflects on clouds seen through the silhouette of bluestem grass in 2004.
Thunderstorm on prairie
Shortgrass prairie with an impending thunderstorm 5 miles west and 1 mile north of Bushnell in Kimball County.
Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area and the east branch of Vertigre Creek in Antelope County.
Wildcat Hills near Gering in Scotts Bluff County.
Boating on Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area in 2009.
Mouth of Niobrara
The mouth of the Niobrara River on the Missouri River resembles the natural river with backwater sloughs and marshes.
Chat Canyon Wildlife Management Area in Cherry County.