The Good Stewardship of Sandhills Ranchers

Husker Home Place

The world now has a heightened appreciation for our Sandhills.

Published on: December 12, 2011

I was driving home from a farm meeting a few weeks ago, and passed, as I like to do, through a portion of the Sandhills. Like most folks who experience the beauty and remote awesomeness of this region, I have come to cherish every trip I take through the area.

My Dad loved the Sandhills too. If he hadn’t purchased the home place back in 1965 from my grandparents, he would have loved to go west and ranch in the middle of the Sandhills somewhere. It was his favorite place in Nebraska, other than our home place.

But no one loves the Sandhills more than the people who live there. This fact became crystal clear recently as the Sandhills that Nebraskans know and love has taken center stage.

Among all of the discussions, debates and emotions involved in the fight over routing of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, two important positive messages rang out loud and clear.

One is that the Sandhills of Nebraska are special, not just to Nebraskans, but to the country. Second, and not least of all, is the fact that Sandhills ranchers have done a fine job of caring for this environmentally sensitive area for generations, and they probably know better than anyone, what is best for that region.

Nebraska Governor, Dave Heineman, told farmers attending the Nebraska Farmers Union Convention in Grand Island last week that the new legislation and arrangements in dealing with TransCanada that will ultimately reroute the proposed pipeline away from the Sandhills, only came about because of the loud voice of landowners.

“It would not have been possible without you,” he told the group.

Because of the discussions that took place over the past months, no matter which side of that fence you stood, you would have to agree that the nation was watching. And while they were watching, they probably noticed the beauty and uniqueness of the region. Folks who may not have known where Nebraska is situated on a U.S. map, may have also noticed how much Sandhills ranchers care about their ranches, their families, their communities and their land.

Letting the nation know that Nebraska farmers and ranchers care about their land is a good thing. It isn’t anything earthshaking to Nebraskans. We’ve known this for a long time.

We know that if we don’t care for our land, it will not care for us. As generational as our farms and ranches are, we know that our land is a great gift, and that we want it in good shape to pass on to the next generation, often within our own families.

I think this love of land is a little foreign to folks who aren’t used to it. Folks living in other parts of the country may find it odd that we have our roots set so deeply within certain parts of the earth. In our mobile society, when pulling up stakes and moving around is part of our culture, the stability of Sandhills families and their strong attachments to their land hopefully brought forth a message that the rest of our nation might learn from.

These folks might also have picked up on our own brand of independent stewardship that takes place away from the hot lights of a news camera crew and doesn’t happen necessarily because of government programs or federal incentives. Our landowners care about the land because they love it.

No matter how you might feel about the proposed pipeline debate, certainly you must feel some pride in our people and how important the Sandhills have been portrayed in recent months to the world.

Even for someone like me, who has always loved the Sandhills region, the debate has helped me take greater notice of the unique landscape and fostered in me an even greater appreciation of the folks who are caring for it every day.