Home Features Community Morgan rancher Fred Thurston takes home state-wide conservation award

Morgan rancher Fred Thurston takes home state-wide conservation award


Long-time Morgan rancher Fred Thurston was recognized last week for his conservation efforts.

The Leopold Conservation Award program recognizes agricultural landowners actively committed to a land ethic, according to their website. An independent panel of agricultural and conservation professionals in each state evaluate applications for the prestigious conservation award.   The exceptional landowner for 2017, Fred Thurston, was announced at the Utah Farm Bureau’s convention on Nov. 17. Thurston was presented with $10,000 and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold.

“The Leopold Conservation Award is a productive investment in private lands conservation. It recognizes and celebrates extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation by private landowners, inspires countless other landowners by example and provides a prominent platform by which agricultural community leaders are recognized as conservation ambassadors to citizens outside of agriculture,” according to the Sand County Foundation website.  “Finally, the program builds bridges between agriculture, government, environmental organizations, industry and academia to advance the cause of private lands conservation.”

Thurston owns and manages a dry farm, cattle and mink ranch in Morgan.”He has voluntarily adopted innovative conservation practices because it makes sense, such as planting grass in seasonal waterways to slow the water, reduce erosion and provide forage. This has greatly increased his herd capacity. In partnership with Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and sportsmen, a portion of the Weber River has been rehabilitated. For years Fred has actively helped other ranchers and young people become invested in modern conservation practices.”

Thurston commented in the YouTube video that was created for his award, “This is a great honor to be awarded this Leopold Conservation award.  It’s one of the goals we have had in the backs of our minds for several years. We have achieved better water quality, better dry farming methods, better fencing methods.  It’s a great honor to be among the best who receive these awards.

“We are a cow/calf operation here. We also have a few pigs, a few chickens and a few mink,” said Thurston.

Thurston’s great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Thurston, settled in Morgan County because “it reminded him of his Ohio home.” He and his family established what is now Circle Bar Ranch. Thurston was born on this farm and has never been away from more than a week or two at a time in the past 87 years. The ranch includes about 100 acres of irrigated pasture land and over 1,000 acres of dry farms and range land.

The Thurston farm has East Canyon Creek on one side and Weber River on the other side. The two waterways converge at the bottom of the Thurston fields so when there are extreme water conditions in either one, the farmland would always flood. 

“Seems like every time we got high water, our bridge got washed out. So this time we got the office of water quality to help us put this bridge in and let them put a monitor on our property, so that they can monitor the flow of water in that area year round,” said a thankful Thurston.

“The last big flood left a channel eroded in a lot of places, and DWR and the department of water quality put rocks in to help control that. They also included walk-in-fishing access to the river on this stretch for a mile. Fence was put up to keep the cattle off,” he continued.

Thurston discussed the methods used to improve the property. This included putting a center pivot on the water system that conserves water. He noted that it “makes it a lot easier to get the fields irrigated easily.” A cement barrier and fence were installed to keep the manure from the cow pens from going into the slew of water that runs directly behind the enclosure. “The walls are 6 inches thick and 4 feet high. They sit on a 12 foot pad of concrete underneath that is 6 inches deep. It goes completely around the corral.”

He mentioned also that on the dry farm, they grow hay. “Any place that’s a little too steep, we leave hay for later feed. Any place we would have erosion, we leave grass and we have put in waterways so that we won’t get a wash anytime we get a lot of rain, and just keep trying to improve them all the time.”

Thurston recognized the state grazing program and acknowledged the State of Utah for helping to improve their grass areas and control the grazing. “It’s worked out real well for us. We are thinking of ways to bring more water to this area so the cows will stay up here longer. We also have deer and elk in this area, and so we leave the bitter brush for the winter for them to feed on. We think that’s a critical part of the range program that goes hand in hand with the feed program for our cattle.”

“In a time where Utah’s population is growing and human conflicts with wildlife are becoming more challenging, I appreciate Fred’s willingness to look beyond his own needs and consider the collective needs of the people around him,” said Gregory Sheehan, director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. “He has proved that by doing so, voluntary conservation efforts can benefit private operations while also benefiting wildlife and the public.”

The Thurston mink operation was started in 1949. “Now it has gotten too big for me, so I have turned it over to my son, Kevin Thurston,” he admitted. 

Kevin said they have about 2,500 female mink and about 500 males. “We’ve recently built five new sheds with double alleys. That’s a lot of mink out there from the six my dad started with. My hope is that this mink operation continues to grow and get bigger. I also hope that the cattle farm can grow and we can continue to raise some of the finest cattle in the area. This is our life, this is our love. It’s what we love to do,” mused Kevin.

Thurston concluded his interview saying, “Stewardship to the land means leaving it in better shape than it was when I took over. That means making sure that the water doesn’t wash the fields away, that our grasslands are staying in good shape so that we can produce more. I hope I am remembered as someone who can be trusted and depended upon when anything needed to be done. I am happy to have a family who has been here through my generation and hopefully they will be able to stay for many more generations to come.” 

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