Steve Wooten is the recipient of The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) 2020 Phil James Conservation Award. This award is presented each year to an individual or organization for extraordinary contributions or achievements that further The Nature Conservancy’s mission of protecting the lands and waters on which all life depends.
Wooten owns and operates Beatty Canyon Ranch near Kim, Colorado, a ranch that has been in his family for generations. He works with his wife Joy, daughters Arin and Niki, sons-in-law Brady and Rusty, and his grandchildren.
Wooten is being recognized for his work in southeastern Colorado and his conservation, community and agricultural leadership in Colorado and the U.S. Through leadership roles with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and partnerships with conservation organizations and universities, he works to develop tools to improve conservation, business and quality of life conditions on his own ranching operation and in his community. To do this, Wooten collaborates with diverse stakeholders including nonprofits, state and federal agencies and beef value chain partners to promote proven tools and approaches that improve outcomes for people and nature on working ranches.
The Nature Conservancy first met Wooten and his family in the late 1990s as they began exploring the role that conservation could play in ranch and community sustainability. This coincided with the beginning of the conservancy’s conservation commitment to the grasslands of the western Great Plains.
In more recent years, as a partner and advisor, Wooten’s work supports and informs TNC’s Sustainable Grazing Lands program, which is testing ways to advance grazing management to benefit food production, ranch families, rural communities, and the many plants and animals that call Colorado home. Wooten has shown a strong commitment to managing his ranch in a way that assures that nature and his bottom line both thrive.
TNC shares Wooten’s desire to strengthen the local economy and simultaneously improve how we grow food and conserve wildlife habitat. Beyond the borders of his own ranch, Wooten has been an advocate for closer working relationships between agriculture and conservation, recognizing that it is critical for them to work together.
Wooten’s leadership in conservation and agriculture includes: being early adopter of conservation easements, providing volunteer leadership to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, serving as Vice-President and spokesman of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, board member of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and being the lead participant in the tamarisk removal and restoration project along the Purgatoire River that lead to the creation of the Purgatoire Watershed Weed Management Cooperative.
Wooten and his family also partner with TNC on the management of the JE Canyon Ranch, a property previously owned by TNC, where we are working together to test grazing land management practices intended to enhance business and conservation outcomes together.
“Steve is driven by a love for the land, his family and his way of life,” said William Burnidge, Director of Sustainable Grazing Lands for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado. “At the same time, he is creative and open to new people and new ideas. He knows that the future won’t look like the past and is constantly engaging in new ideas for building a viable future for his family, his community and the natural world. His very presence and engagement in all of the above efforts and organizations strengthens the conservation story every single day.”
The Phil James Conservation Award was named in honor of Phil James, who began volunteering for TNC in 1986. James served on The Nature Conservancy’s Board of Trustees for Nebraska, Colorado and Alaska and as Vice-chair of the global Board of Governors. He worked tirelessly to raise public and private funds, build partnerships and be an ambassador for a multitude of conservation priorities. In addition to his work for TNC, he served as a Colorado Wildlife Commissioner and a board member of Great Outdoors Colorado.
Past recipients of the award include, The Grand Valley Water Users Association, Great Outdoors Colorado and Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust.