A ranch family from Potter was named the winner of the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award Thursday in ceremonies at the State Capitol.
Three generations of the Mathewson family, including Rodney and Arlene, Randy and Gina, and Beau and Kahla, were recognized by Gov. Dave Heineman, Nebraska Cattlemen President-Elect Jim Ramm and others for their commitment to conservation.
David Hanson of the Sand County Foundation came from Madison, Wis., to present the award, which includes $10,000 in cash.
Beau Mathewson, described as "the brains of the outfit" by his father, Randy, offered his perspective on family efforts that began in the 1940s to cure the effects of overgrazing by rotating pastures and other means.
"Stewardship is leaving the land better than you found it," Beau Mathewson said.
The Leopold award honors world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, based in Madison as the founder of the Wilderness Society and the author of the Sand County Almanac, a collection of essays about his outdoor experiences.
Leopold died in the 1940s.
Decades later, eight states, including Nebraska, honor landowners for their work in conserving and protecting private land.
As Heineman noted, conservation in private settings is especially important in a state where 97 percent of the land is privately owned.
"Randy and Beau are preserving Nebraska's open spaces," the governor said.
Randy Mathewson said management decisions in a ranch setting about 25 miles from the Colorado border aren't always easy.
That includes one in which 50 percent of the cattle were sold during a drought to protect the grazing resource.
"After the drought," he said, "our pasture recovered so much faster than pastures that were continuously grazed."