Switzer Ranch receives Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award

Switzer Ranch of Loup County has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat resources in their care.

In Nebraska, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska, Cargill and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Bruce and Sue Ann Switzer along with their children, Sarah Sortum and Adam Switzer, own and operate Switzer Ranch. They were announced as the recipients by Gov. Pete Ricketts. The Switzers will be presented with the $10,000 award during a ceremony honoring them later this year.

Sarah Sortum and Adam Switzer are siblings and fourth-generation ranchers committed to the stewardship of Switzer Ranch. They express a land ethic passed down from their parents, Bruce and Sue Ann Switzer, by implementing agricultural conservation practices and connecting others with nature.

In addition to custom grazing beef cattle on 12,000 acres of native prairie, the Switzer family also operates a nature-based tourism business. Calamus Outfitters offers lodging, event space, river float trips, and eco-tours of the Sandhills. To accomplish these goals the Switzers used the ecological processes that helped shape the Great Plains: fire and grazing.

A huge motivator for the family was the rapidly disappearing habitat of native prairie grouse. The Switzers have met the biodiversity goals they set out to achieve 12 years ago with the use of fire and rotational grazing. They showed that ranchers can create bird and wildlife habitat, while improving water quality, soil health and root systems in the environmentally-sensitive Sandhills. Not only did their efforts lead to an uptick in bird watchers visiting the ranch, but when Audubon Nebraska designated the ranch as an Important Bird Area, it was among the first private properties in Nebraska with that designation. Always looking to connect others to the importance of grassland bird habitat, the Switzers even played host to a fun and educational Prairie Chicken Festival. Resiliency is defined on some ranches as the conservation of natural resources. For others it’s ensuring future economic viability. At Switzer Ranch these attributes go hand in hand.