Lazy KT Ranch Receives Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award
The Lazy KT Ranch of Freedom has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, ITC Great Plains, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Dr. Katie Blunk, a Woods County Conservation District Director, and her family own and operate Lazy KT Ranch. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. The Woods County cattle ranchers will be presented with the award on February 28 at the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Meeting.
“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Oklahoma recipient,” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
“Katie and Michael burn with passion for conservation at Lazy KT Ranch,” said Trey Lam, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “Their hard work and determination along with the willingness to partner with neighbors, burn associations, NRCS and the Woods County Conservation District has restored a picturesque and product ranch. This provides a roadmap for the entire state on how to take back our ranches from invasive species.”
“The Blunk family has a true passion for land stewardship. They are in a continual process of learning, always working toward improvement of their land,” said Hugh Aljoe, Noble Research Institute Director of Producer Relations. “They move beyond their own operation, serving as leaders and educators in their community and inspiring others to be better stewards.”
“When we think of stewards of the land and ranches that have gone above and beyond, Lazy KT Ranch stands at the top,” said Gary O’Neill, Oklahoma State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Lazy KT helps to inspire others to be true conservation leaders. They invite others to see and get hands-on experience of what they are adopting in hopes that they can use these practices on their ranches as well.”
“ITC Great Plains congratulates the Lazy KT Ranch for being selected as the recipient of the 2021 Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award,” said Brett Leopold, ITC Great Plains President. “At ITC we are committed to environmental responsibility and applaud Dr. Blunk and her family for their hard work and dedication to being good stewards of the land and our natural resources.”
“The Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture is honored to help recognize Dr. Katie Blunk and her family for the work they do to care for the land and resources entrusted to them,” said David VonTungeln, OKFB Foundation for Agriculture President. “The Lazy KT Ranch is a great testimony to the effects of modern conservation practices and the importance of responsible land stewardship.”
Earlier this year, Oklahoma landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
The first Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Jimmy and Ginger Emmons in 2017. Other recipients include: Russ and Jani Jackson in 2018, Chuck and Ruth Coffey in 2019, and The Victor Ranch in 2020.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Oklahoma is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, ITC Great Plains, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, McDonald’s, Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”
Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 23 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
Lazy KT Ranch’s story is one of resilience. A mother and daughter’s land ethic has revived the native grasslands of a ranch located a few miles east of the Dust Bowl’s epicenter.
As a child, Rose Kline Blunk took shelter at a neighbor’s home on Black Sunday. The bank took her family’s cattle as they struggled through the Great Depression. During a severe drought during the 1950s, she vividly remembers the sky turning gray and the wind feeling like a sandblaster. Since then, the importance of caring for the land has never left her.
Rose’s daughter, Katie Blunk, grew up on the Blunk family ranch. Her time with horses, cattle, and dogs influenced her decision to become a veterinarian. When Katie’s father died in 1995, Rose inherited what would later become Lazy KT Ranch.
Drought, cedar trees and over grazing had ravaged the ranch’s landscape. Although Rose was overwhelmed by its decline, she shouldered the task of preserving the land for the next generation. She cut cedar trees and brought prescribed fire management to the ranch with the financial and technical assistance of the local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office.
In 2012, after retiring from her veterinary medicine career in Nevada, Katie came home to her ranching roots with her husband Michael Horntvedt. She embarked on her life’s next journey, an immersion into conservation and cattle ranching. A decade later, the Lazy KT Ranch is thriving from an ecological and business perspective.
For Katie and Michael, good land stewardship practices go hand in hand with good stockmanship practices. Whether selling quality Black Angus cattle as seed stock to other ranchers, or selling beef directly to consumers under their “Jackass Ridge Beef” label, they provide their customers with assurances that their cattle have been raised in a low stress environment.
To reduce erosion and protect water quality and quantity, riparian areas have been fenced off and ponds have been built. Pipelines, water storage, and solar powered watering systems have been installed.
Grazing cattle helps meet their rangeland restoration goals. A cycle of prescribed fire, rotational grazing and a period of rest mimics the days when bison roamed prairies that were reinvigorated by wildfires.
Katie says the best and most economical conservation tool for their ranch is the strategic application of prescribed fire and grazing. This combination has restored the prairie ecosystem while producing quality forage for cattle, and wildlife habitat. She credits the Cimarron Range Preservation Association with encouraging this approach. Katie serves as president of the association which brings neighbors together with neighbors to help with beneficial prescribed fires.
Serving in that role and as a local conservation district board member are ways she helps educate and inspire others to address conservation issues. Katie encourages landowners to adopt pollinator-friendly stewardship practices through her involvement with the Okies for Monarchs campaign.
Wildflowers and native grasses have been seeded across the ranch’s 1,525 acres to provide habitat for native pollinators, Monarch butterflies and lesser prairie chickens.
The reemergence of the prairie, wildlife and cattle to the Lazy KT Ranch are all testaments to the landscape’s recovery, regenerative ranching practices, and the land ethic of its stewards.
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LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION inspires and empowers a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. www.sandcountyfoundation.org
AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families. www.farmland.org
ITC GREAT PLAINS is a transmission-only utility operating in the Southwest Power Pool region. The company operates approximately 470 circuit miles of transmission lines in Kansas and Oklahoma. ITC Great Plains maintains regional offices in Dodge City, Topeka and Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. ITC Great Plains is a subsidiary of ITC Holdings Corp.’ the largest independent electric transmission company in the U.S. For further information, visit www.itc-holdings.com. ITC is a subsidiary of Fortis Inc., a leader in the North American regulated electric and gas utility industry.
NOBLE RESEARCH INSTITUTE LLC is an independent nonprofit agricultural research organization dedicated to delivering solutions to great agricultural challenges. Headquartered in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Noble’s goal is to achieve regenerative land stewardship in grazing animal production with lasting producer profitability. Achievement of this goal will be measured by farmers and ranchers profitably regenerating hundreds of millions of acres of U.S. grazing lands. Noble aims to remove, mitigate or help producers avoid the barriers that deter the lasting use of regenerative, profitable land management practices in grazing animal production. www.noble.org
OKLAHOMA CATTLEMEN’S ASSOCIATION represents the interests of Oklahoma’s cattlemen at the Oklahoma Legislature. The OCA has continued an aggressive course of action supporting proactive legislation and challenging anti-industry legislation and regulations. The OCA exists to support and defend the state and nation’s beef cattle industry. www.okcattlemen.org
OKLAHOMA CONSERVATION COMMISSION provides assistance to Oklahoma’s 84 conservation districts and the public to foster a sense of stewardship and conservation management of Oklahoma’s renewable natural resources. This is accomplished through soil and water conservation, land use planning, small watershed upstream flood control, abandoned mine land reclamation, water quality monitoring, environmental education and wetlands conservation. www.ok.gov/conservation/
OKLAHOMA FARM BUREAU FOUNDATION FOR AGRICULTURE was formed to enhance awareness and understanding of agriculture’s contribution and importance to the state of Oklahoma. www.okfbfoundationforagriculture.org
USDA NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS) is a federal agency committed to helping private landowners care and make healthy choices for the land and water, while using them productively. Through voluntary incentive-based programs, the NRCS works directly with farmers, ranchers, forest owners and other land stewards to provide technical expertise and financial assistance to make conservation work on private lands. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/ok/home/