The Slovek Ranch of Philip has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award®.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist, Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to the land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land.
In South Dakota, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.
Slovek Ranch is owned and operated by the Bill and Pennie Slovek family.
The Slovek Ranch was recognized as the South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award recipient in conjunction with Earth Day. The Sloveks will be formally presented with the $10,000 award at the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in November.
“The Slovek’s focus on conserving the grasslands on their family ranch is commendable,” said Brett Nix, South Dakota Grassland Coalition Chairman. “We look forward to continuing to highlight their conservation story throughout the year.”
“The Slovek family is the embodiment of leaving the land better than you found it. Their operations implement many management practices to continually improve the ecosystem on their ranch – not just above the surface, but also below it,” said Eric Jennings, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President. “These practices promote a healthy root system and water infiltration in the soil resulting in increased production and plant diversity. Words like sustainability and resiliency get tossed around a lot these days, but the Slovek family has led with these practices for years.”
“The recipients of this award are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the South Dakota 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.”
The first South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award was presented in 2010. Recipients from across the state have been honored for their dedication to conservation ethic. Each year thereafter, South Dakota landowners have been encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications are reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
The Leopold Conservation Award Program in South Dakota made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Grassland Coalition, Sand County Foundation, First Dakota National Bank, South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, South Dakota State University College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Audubon Dakota, Bad River Ranches, Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership, Blair Brothers Angus Ranch, Cammack Ranch, Daybreak Ranch, Ducks Unlimited, Jim and Karen Kopriva, McDonald’s, Millborn Seeds, North Central SARE-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, South Dakota Pheasants Forever, Professional Alliance, South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, South Dakota Soybean Association, The Nature Conservancy, Todd Mortenson Family, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and Wagner Land & Livestock.
Sand County Foundation and American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.
Bill Slovek inherited more than some rolling acres of prairie from his father Earl. He also inherited his legacy of careful land stewardship.
Today, Bill is the primary land manager of Slovek Ranch’s nearly 26,000 acres of grazing lands alongside his wife, Pennie, and the families of their adult children: Bo, Brock, and Belinda.
Bill considers himself fortunate to manage land that was not worn out by his predecessors. Although his father didn’t have today’s water and infrastructure resources at his disposal, he did have the foresight to not overgraze the ranch.
His father also kept an open mind after Bill graduated from college, moved home, and began buying land, developing water infrastructure, and tearing out old fencing.
By 2001 Bill was installing cross fencing to divide pastures and experiment with rotational grazing. He kept a close eye on the changes that longer rest times and more pasture rotations brought the grass and soil. Slowly but surely, he noticed better infiltration of rainwater, less erosion, and healthier grasslands.
After seeing the initial results of his new grazing strategy, Bill developed more pastures and water infrastructure. Slovek Ranch now has 60 pastures and three herds moving across it, so at any given time 57 of their pastures are at rest.
A more intensive grazing rotation has resulted in pounds of forage continuing to increase on every pasture. Those gains are achieved by having adequate water distribution on the landscape to evenly spread out grazing and decrease unnecessary land disturbance. With assistance from the NRCS, the Sloveks installed almost 30 miles of water pipelines and 120 tire tanks.
Leaving behind enough of this year’s grass growth provides the necessary shade, protection, and moisture to give next year’s grass growth an advantage. Slovek Ranch’s grazing system has produced an increase in the diversity of plant species across the landscape. Not overgrazing also provides feed and habitat for wildlife and threatened grassland birds and pollinators.
Over the years, the intrinsic value and uniqueness of intact grasslands motivated Bill to become a dedicated student of the land in tandem with growing his family’s cattle business. To make room for the next generation, the Sloveks recently purchased a second ranch near Kadoka, where Brock and his wife, Ashley, raise 400 beef cows. The new ranch also features intact native grasslands, interspersed with badlands.
Slovek Ranch is a regular host of tours centered around grazing management, and its efforts have earned several conservation and beef industry accolades. Much of this is thanks to Bill’s ability to pay close attention to what worked, and maybe more importantly what didn’t. Bill has evolved into a conservationist whose years of careful observation, mimic an approach resembling Aldo Leopold’s own way of studying soil, plants, wildlife, and people’s role on the landscape.
Bill’s ability to adapt and innovate has produced an improved landscape and conservation ethic that he can hand down to his children.