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The Trumler family works to prevent erosion, improve grass and soil health, and provide a place for wildlife.

May 4, 2023

5 Min Read
The Trumler family of Rockville, Neb.
LAND HEROES: The Trumler family of Rockville, Neb. — including Chris Trumler (right), wife Jenifer and their sons — was named the 2023 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award winner. A-FAN, Sand County Foundation

Chris Trumler traces his conservation ethic to his grandfather and father. His grandfather grew up loving the outdoors on a farm near Munich, Germany. After World War II, hunting was prohibited and fishing was costly, so Trumler’s grandfather moved his family to Nebraska in 1950 in search of a better life.

By the 1970s, Trumler’s father was an industrial arts teacher who dreamed of raising cattle and owning a place to hunt and fish.

After buying an overgrazed piece of the Sandhills range, his father improved areas where erosion had formed blowouts by fencing them off and planting trees to stabilize the sandy soils. Trumler carried countless jugs of water to those trees as a child. His passion for wildlife conservation took root after noticing the trees were attracting deer, quail and grouse.

Trumler Ranch today

Trumler is still planting trees today on Trumler Ranch’s 930 acres of native grasslands and wetlands. To create shelterbelts for cattle and wildlife, he planted enough trees to stretch more than a mile.

His Trumler Ranch, which he operates in Buffalo, Hall, Howard and Sherman counties with his wife, Jenifer, and their sons, was recently named the 2023 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award winner.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat resources in their care.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the award to private landowners in 27 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. In Nebraska, the award is presented with Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN), Cargill and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Wildlife benefits

Although a full-time cattle rancher, Trumler says he also sees himself as a wildlife manager after working as a conservation technician for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wildlife and fisheries divisions. He rotationally grazes his cattle herd using wildlife-friendly cross-fencing.

A deferred grazing system of not grazing part of the ranch until July allows it to reach “climax vegetation.” This provides excellent conditions for deer to fawn, and for upland birds to nest. By timing their calving season for summer, this system matches the cows’ nutritional needs to when the pasture is at its highest nutritional stage.

Limiting his cattle herd’s access to natural waterways has also produced conservation benefits. Wetlands and former stock ponds offer habitat for migratory and shore birds. During dry years, these areas support prairie chicken, grouse and quail.

Fencing cattle away from streambanks has improved water quality by reducing erosion. Trumler is experimenting with hinge-cutting trees along streambanks to slow the water and provide habitat for fish and invertebrates.

Cold, clean drinking water is delivered to cattle tanks through a series of pipelines fed by solar wells and windmills. The tanks have corrugated escape ramps for wildlife that fall in the tank.

Although the harvesting of hay is timed to avoid nesting and fawning seasons, Trumler takes extra precautions to protect wildlife by attaching a flush bar to his hay mower. He also provides an escape route for rabbits and birds by not initially cutting a hayfield’s perimeter. This allows wildlife the option of not crossing barren cut areas to reach cover or adjacent uncut fields.

Crop rotations, no-till practices and cover crops are used on Trumler Ranch’s irrigated and dryland crop fields. Cover crops of rye and turnips are grown each fall to build the soil’s organic matter. This practice also reduces the need for commercial fertilizers and prevents nitrates from leaching into groundwater. Regular soil sampling of each field also prevents overapplication of fertilizer.

Trumler reduced his ranch’s water usage and eliminated runoff concerns by updating to a pivot and subsurface drip irrigation system. He planted the corners of his pivot-irrigated field with pollinator-friendly vegetation. In addition to helping pollinators, the additional ground cover and prevalence of insects provides more quality bird habitat.

Among his many volunteer and outreach activities, Trumler mentors youth pheasant hunters on the value of having a conservation ethic. On and off the ranch, he is living the better life that his immigrant grandfather envisioned decades ago.

Nebraska landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award last year. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. The Trumlers will be presented with $10,000 and a crystal award at the AFAN annual meeting in November.

The sponsors

The Leopold Conservation Award Program in Nebraska is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Cargill, AFAN, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Sand County Foundation, Farm Credit Services of America, Audubon Nebraska, Lyle Sittler Memorial Fund, McDonald’s, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Game and Parks, Nebraska Land Trust, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Sandhills Task Force, Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, World Wildlife Fund-Northern Great Plains, and Green Cover Seed.

The first Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Wilson Ranch of Lakeside, Neb., in 2006. The 2022 recipient was Wine Glass Ranch of Imperial, Neb. To view profiles of each award recipient visit

Accolades for Trumler Ranch

  • “Most times, the belief in conservation is passed from generation to generation, which we see in action today at the Trumler Ranch. Chris’ conservation practices at this ranch along with the care he has for wildlife is a testimony to his stewardship of the land,” says Steve Martin, AFAN executive director. “We find that those who care for the land reap the benefits for generations to come.”

  • “As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Nebraska recipient,” says 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 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,” says Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation president and CEO.

  • “Trumler Ranch exemplifies how a cattle ranch can be economically viable while providing environmental benefits for all. The Trumler family leads by example in utilizing Nebraska’s grasslands to produce exceptional cattle and quality wildlife habitat,” says Sammy Renteria, general manager of Cargill’s facility in Schuyler, Neb.

Source: AFAN

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