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Northwest Oklahoma ranch wins award for conservation practices

Two of three owners of the Lazy K-T Ranch, Katie Blunk (left) and her mother Rose Kline Blunk (right).
Two of three owners of the Lazy K-T Ranch, Katie Blunk (left) and her mother Rose Kline Blunk (right).

A ranch near the small northwestern Oklahoma town of Freedom was selected as the recipient of a statewide conservation award.

The Lazy KT Ranch in Freedom, Oklahoma, was awarded with the Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award and a $10,000 prize for its history of conservation-minded ranching. The award is named after the late ecologist Aldo Leopold.

The owners of the ranch — Katie Blunk, her husband Michael Horntvedt and her mother Rose Kline Blunk — took land once marred by drought and full of redcedar, and turned it into a diverse ecosystem with native grasses and wildflowers that support pollinators like monarchs and bees. Katie said one of the main tools of conservation they use is prescribed fire.

“I feel very strongly about prescribed fire. I mean, that’s what we live for — fire courses through our veins,” Katie said. “We have to have good fire on the land in order for our prairies to come back to the way they used to be.”

Katie said her cattle enjoy the post-fire forage, which is rich in protein, and the cattle’s weights have gone up since starting prescribed fires.

Katie is the president of the Cimarron Range Preservation Association, a group that promotes rangeland management in the area with prescribed burning practices. The organization helps to bring neighbors together to help with prescribed fires.

“This group of neighbors helping neighbors has developed into a really well-oiled machine for implementing and rolling out prescribed burn practices in a real safe and effective manner,” Katie said.

The family also took measures to protect and conserve their water supply. They fenced off riparian areas to reduce erosion, built ponds, and installed pipelines, water storage and solar-powered watering systems.

The ranch sells Black Angus cattle as seed stock to other ranchers and also sells their “Jackass Ridge Beef," — named after a spot on their ranch called Jackass Ridge.

To win the award, Oklahoma landowners applied or were nominated, and those applications were reviewed by a panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. 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 USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Beth reports on education topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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