Craig and Conni French: 2019 Conservationists of the Year!

Congratulations to Craig and Conni French of C Lazy J Livestock on their 2019 Conservationist of the Year Award!

Craig and Conni French have continually demonstrated their commitment to natural resource management on their ranch as well as protecting and enhancing the conservation value of their property. The Frenches have been leaders in proactive conservation measures, collaboration with agencies, other ranchers, and non-profits, as well as ensuring long-term land protection on their property.The Frenches have taken several direct, innovative and adaptive actions to benefit the land.

Their ranch management plan has been to rotationally graze their pastures more frequently than they have in the past to better manage forage and habitat. Rather than installing permanent fencing to achieve this management strategy, they have been using temporary electric fence for the last
several years. These temporary fences are only in place for a few weeks at most, which decreases the potential for conflicts between wildlife and permanent fencing infrastructure.
Additionally, Craig and Conni have also placed the health of Beaver Creek, a perennial creek that flows through 3 miles of the French Ranch, as one of their main management goals. Keeping this perennial creek healthy is one of their main goals. To that end they have worked with NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to place livestock water tanks and windbreaks away from Beaver Creek, in order to draw cattle away from this sensitive area. Through their use of temporary grazing to facilitate quicker moves and increased plant rest, Beaver Creek has had a reemergence of willows which was very exciting for both the Frenches and the partners they have worked with to achieve this goal. Over the last few years they have gradually stopped haying entirely along Beaver Creek, making their operation more wildlife-friendly.
The Frenches recognize that without a healthy, sustainable land base they will not be able to carry the ranch into the future. Increasing grass and soil health are considerations that are always front of their minds in their decision-making process. In that pursuit they practice holistic resource management. With the use of electric fence, they have increased the number of cattle moves and as well as pastures and they now move cattle around 40 times per summer. This allows for increased rest in the pasture and more control over where and when cattle are grazing. This management philosophy means that they are not just thinking about the health of their cattle but also the health of the soil, insects, etc as well as the ranch’s financial and human health.
According to their daughter Kelli, one of the most important things her parents have passed on to her is the idea to never stop learning “and they continue to teach me to not just do things the way they’ve always been done but to think outside the box and always be open to new ideas”.
One of the most important aspects of making sure that their ranch will stay productive into the future has been engaging their three children, Tyler, Jacki, and Kelli in ranch planning. Tyler and Kelli are pilots and Jacki is a civil engineer (and her husband Brent is a pilot). They are all trying to figure out when they will return to the ranch and what that role would look like. They also recognize that even if their kids don’t take over the ranch they would like to pass on a ranch operation that is sustainable, both environmentally and economically. As their vision statement says they aim to “provide opportunities and hope for future generations.”

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