I was very pleased to join with the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Sand County Foundation in announcing the recipient of the 2011 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award ahead of Earth Day. The award is presented to private landowners who practice responsible land stewardship and management. It recognizes the important role private landowners play in caring for the land, water and wildlife in our state. It honors a commitment to stewardship.
The vast majority of Nebraska's total land is privately-owned, which is a stark contrast to many western states where a significant portion of land is under federal ownership. Approximately 97 percent of Nebraska land is privately held, with 93 percent of all acres utilized by farmers and ranchers.
For the sixth year, a Nebraska family has been honored for their conservation work in our state as recipients of the Leopold Conservation Award. Each honoree has a wonderful story to tell about preserving the unique landscapes of our state. I am pleased to help highlight the story of the family being recognized this year.
For three generations, Rodney, Randy and Beau Mathewson and their families have helped restore and preserve Nebraska's open spaces. Rodney and Arlene Mathewson started a small farming and cattle operation near Potter in western Nebraska in the 1940's, which today is run by his son, Randy and his wife Gina, and grandson, Beau and wife Kahla.
For more than 30 years the family has practiced rotational grazing for cattle, allowing entire pastures to rest for a full season every three or four years to ensure the land is not over grazed by livestock and to allow time for recovery. Conservation practices such as planned burns, eliminating weeds and invasive species, and allowing rest periods for pastureland have improved the quality of grazing for cattle, eliminated soil erosion, and helped the land recover faster from extreme drought conditions.
In the early 1990's, the family purchased adjacent land to expand the ranch. The land was in disrepair and has been restored using effective soil and water management efforts.
Being part of federal conservation programs has helped the family plant more than 6,000 trees, along with grasses, native plants and shrubs that have created habitat wildlife. Better ground cover has helped provide better forage for livestock and provide nesting and habitat for migratory and game birds and other wildlife that are increasingly diverse in the area, such as deer and antelope.
In addition to restoring this short grass prairie landscape in western Nebraska, this family operation takes full advantage of technology to measure, monitor and log information that helps run a more efficient operation managing livestock and the wildlife that populate their land.
The work of the Mathewsons and other Leopold award recipients demonstrates the dedication of many Nebraskans who take on the responsibility of caring for the land and who are committed to leave things better for their families and for future generations of Nebraskans.
We all benefit from the work of private landowners who are preserving the natural beauty of our state. I commend all of Nebraska's Leopold honorees for the outstanding example they have set. I applaud them for making conservation an important priority in their business operations and a part of their family traditions. It is a wonderful legacy.