Conservation and stewardship might seem like high-dollar buzzwords for a clichéd feel good story about classic Montana do-gooders, but for Lynn Owens and Dave Dixon the words mean decades of hard work on the land they cherish.
Owens and Dixon were honored Saturday at the annual Ruby and Madison Valley Conservation Districts Banquet in Virginia City.
Dixon, who manages the Snowcrest Ranch in the upper Ruby Valley, won the Ruby Valley Conservation District Stewardship Award.
Owens, who owns a ranch on North Meadow Creek out of McAllister, won the Madison Conservation District Stewardship Award.
Both awards were a first for the conservation districts and both recipients were humbled by the honor.
“When you get voted on by your peers that you made an accomplishment of that caliber, it’s pretty overwhelming,” Dixon said.
“I was very, very pleased that they thought of me for that,” Owens said. “I’ve always been very conservationally minded but I didn’t know if anyone else knew that or not.”
Both men have different kinds of ranches.
Dixon and his wife Linda manage the Snowcrest Ranch for Ted Turner and Turner Enterprises. Owens’ ranch is an expansion of a family ranch purchased in the mid 1940s.
Dixon raises bison on his place and Owens runs a standard cow, calf and hay operation.
But in listening to them, it’s obvious it’s what the two men have in common that led to their recent honors.
“It’s my feeling that how you take care of your land effects future generations,” Owens said. “I do everything, not to make the last penny out of it, but so it’s good to pass on to the next generation and on down.”
Dixon echoes Owens.
“For most people it’s livestock and pounds per acre and it boils down to the dollar signs rather than we’re losing things for future generations here at their expense for our profit,” he said. “That’s a big turn around for a lot of people”
Conservation and stewardship are easy to talk about, but for many people they don’t have a concrete meaning, Dixon said.
“For most people conservation doesn’t mean anything except it’s something somebody else should do,” Dixon said. “It’s every single person in this world that needs to practice conservation.”
For many ranchers in the Ruby and Madison Valleys, conservation and stewardship mean working hard to make things better and taking care of the resources you’re entrusted with, he said.
In the Ruby Valley for example, ranchers in the last 10 to 15 years have been working hard to educate themselves on conservation and stewardship practices, whether it means pasture structure, fencing off riparian areas to protect water resources or rotational grazing.
“Looking at what people in this valley have already done – there has been extraordinary change in the last 10 to 15 years,” Dixon said.
Over in the Madison Valley, Owens has been involved with a variety of conservation efforts over the years, from rodent management to weed control to water conservation projects.
When he took over the ranch from his folks in the mid 1960s, everything was irrigated with flood irrigation. He moved progressively from that to hand sprinkler lines, to wheel lines to a gravity fed center pivot.
At the same time other ranchers were working to use their land and water better.
“It’s not just me,” Owens said. “You see other people with grass you didn’t see here fifty years ago.”
Owens and his wife Devona raised four kids on his ranch – Brett, Blaine, Linda and Bonnie.
“This wasn’t just me,” he said. “It took the whole family.”
Owens’ award not only speaks to his own stewardship ethic, but the fact that he’s worked hard to help educate other people about conservation, said Sunni Heikes-Knapton, Madison Watershed Coordinator.
“I think that Lynn stands out not only because he’s done a lot of work on his own ranch, but because he’s been involved in trying to help other people understand more about natural resources and how ranching contributes to our area,” Heikes-Knapton said.
And Dixon has led by example, demonstrating that taking care of the land is everyone’s responsibility, said Rebecca Ramsey, Ruby Watershed Coordinator.
“I think Dave said it best himself when he said ‘There’s only so much of this land and it’s our responsibility to take care of it to the best of our ability no matter who owns it,’” Ramsey said.
Both Ramsey and Heikes-Knapton took nominations for the stewardship awards and a committee from each district selected the winner for their respective district.
The hope is that by acknowledging local champions of conservation, it will serve to help educate people about the good conservation work local people are doing.
“It’s all about leading through example and so I think that’s the point of the award is to acknowledge those leaders,” Ramsey said.
And the banquet was a glowing success as well. Nearly 200 people turned out at the Virginia City Elks Club for the annual banquet, awards ceremony and dance.
“It felt like the event it was supposed to be, it felt like a community event,” Heikes-Knapton said. “What amazed me is when you looked out in the crowd you saw kids as young as 4-years-old and long-time residents in their 80s all having a blast.”