ELI Primary Menu

Skip to main content

South Dakota Landowner Wins 2002 National Wetland Award

May 2002

Clarence Mortenson, a leader in wetland restoration, has won the 2002 National Wetlands Award for Land Stewardship and Development. He will be honored at a ceremony on May 16, 2002, at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC for outstanding contributions to ecological restoration of wetlands.

“I have worked all my life in conservation, and one thing I have learned is that water is the primary concern for any conservation work,” said Mortenson, “I am deeply honored to have been selected, but even after 50 years we are still in the early stages of the restoration process.”

In the 1950s, when Clarence Mortenson took over his family’s ranch in Stanley and Ziebach counties, he inherited barren, treeless rangelands with a scarce water supply. In 1942, a family friend had told him that the region was once tree-lined and grassy-bottomed with abundant water holes. Mr. Mortenson, initially doubting the story, studied historical records and discovered the account to be true. Since then he, with the help of his sons Curt, Jeff, and Todd, have been working to bring their 10,500 acre working ranch to the condition it was before the area was homesteaded.

Through the construction of small sediment-trapping dams, a rest-rotation grazing system, and deferred summer grazing, the ranch now has many restored wetlands. Cottonwoods, willows, beavers, and dense mats of prairie cordgrass have returned to Foster Creek. Fruit-bearing shrubs now grow with trees in numerous areas, and much less soil and water leave the ranch, even after grazing. Wildlife has returned in impressive numbers, and nongame birds, including many neotropical migrant species, are abundant as well. Ecological improvements have also benefited the ranch financially — the Mortensons report that their land management practices have increased both profits and sustainability. Prairie grass and forb production has increased to the point where Jeff Mortenson has started a native seed and prairie restoration business.

“Clarence’s success is testimony that profitable stock grazing can be compatible with the long-term maintenance of healthy natural ecosystems,” said W. Carter Johnson, Professor of Ecology at South Dakota State University.

Since 1989, the National Wetlands Awards program has honored exceptional individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary effort, innovation, and excellence in wetland conservation, research, or education through programs or projects at the regional, state, or local level. The program is co-sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The voluntary restoration and enhancement of wetlands has benefited critical habitat for fish and wildlife, and provided immeasurable water quality benefits to society,” said Pearlie S. Reed, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

For more information on the National Wetlands Awards winners, or the ceremony, contact Dorigen Fried at wetlandsawards@eli.org, http://www.nationalwetlandsawards.org/index.htm