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The Heaton Ranch in Alton is the recipient of the 2012 Leopold Conservation Award for its efforts to maintain a successful agricultural operation even as it preserves natural resources for future generations.
The ranch, owned and operated by first cousins Karl and Raymond Heaton, covers 140,000 private and federal acres that support 1,250 head of cattle and abundant wildlife populations, including sage grouse and a premier trophy mule deer herd.
"The Heatons have made conservation a family tradition. Through adaptive management techniques, innovation and outreach, the family [is] going a long way to ensure that the [ranch] will, not only endure, but thrive," said Brent Haglund, president of the Sand County Foundation , which presented the award along with the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the Utah Cattlemen's Association, Trout Unlimited and Western AgCredit.
The Leopold Conservation Award, named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, includes $10,000 and a Leopold crystal. It is presented annually in eight states to private landowners who practice responsible land stewardship and management.
Utah finalists were Junior Goring of Box Elder County and H.A. Farms, owned by the Dennis Stowell family of Iron County.
At Heaton Ranch, where beef production is the operation's mainstay, the cousins have established restoration activities on their private ranch land and federal grazing allotments, including such projects as irrigation and livestock water development, fencing, grazing management, pinion/juniper and shrub removal, reseeding and more.
"These cattle pay for all the conservation work we do," said Karl Heaton. "Conservation is a top priority for us, and we recognize that's what's kept us in business. [The public would] like to put summer homes out here, but we're maintaining open spaces. We're an agriculture ranch, and that's how we want to keep it."
The Heatons also operates an outfitting business and take those unfamiliar with agricultural endeavors along with them on cattle drives to give them a taste of the West. Each fall, the ranchers trail cattle 100 miles to the south to graze on winter forage on the Arizona Strip in an area north of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon in Arizona.
"We are very excited to present this award on behalf of the farmers and ranchers of Utah," said Utah Farm Bureau President Leland Hogan. "This award, however, is great for all of Utah because the recognition and funding helps to preserve and enhance our open space."
The Leopold Conservation Award in Utah also is made possible through the support of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Utah Association of Conservation Districts.
Sand County Foundation is a private, nonprofit conservation group dedicated to working with private landowners to improve habitat on their properties.