Beyond the Build


Behind the Scenes of Land Conservation

Each year, we make a pilgrimage to South Dakota, west of the Missouri River, near the Black Hills, to spend a few days with our friends at Lame Johnny Ranch. We spend our days chasing pheasants wherever the dogs’ noses lead us. This was my 30th year to make the trip, and I’ve watched as the stewards of the land have found a balance between agriculture, ranching and wildlife habitat.

Sometimes we don’t give enough credit to those who manage our rural lands. The complex relationships between commerce, recreation and conservation are a lot to take on.

Despite having to cut less hay to create nesting habitat, planting grains to provide food for wildlife, and allowing the land to go fallow to provide cover from predators, the note still has to get paid. Through measured grazing and good land planning, agriculture and cattle ranching have been able to provide the sustenance that this magical place needs to have us out each October.

We do a lot of walking through the cat tails, row crops and feed plots, have some good meals and a glass of wine by a campfire in the evening, along with star gazing. Even more than all this, we enjoy the opportunity to take it all in, grateful for the hard work that went into maintaining this big sky country.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.