Ray McCormick
Vincennes, Indiana

Aldo Leopold would have liked Indiana farmer Ray McCormick, the award winner in the business category. Based on Leopold’s conservation lessons of half a century ago, McCormick is what Leopold hoped all of today’s landowners would finally become—a devout steward of the land carrying forward the land ethic to a new generation of landowners.

Growing up on his family farm in Knox County in southwest Indiana, McCormick learned about conservation farming from his grandfathers and father. McCormick also began to learn about the natural world, especially as it relates to the biological wonders of Half-Moon Pond, the huge ox-bow wetland complex along the White River near his farm. His love and fascination of wetlands was close to home.

McCormick graduated form Colorado State University with concentrations in agriculture, forestry, and wildlife. Upon returning to take over operation of the 1,500-acre family farming complex, he soon implemented conservation tillage practices to minimize erosion and build the soil. He also began restoring quail, rabbit, and song bird habitats. But his first love, wetlands, was where he concentrated.

In 1987, he actively supported establishing the Pakota River National Wildlife Refuge and became acquainted with the activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). He prepared a slide program about the Pakota River and bottomland hardwood habitat and briefed regional FWS administrators, Indiana conservationists, service clubs, and school groups about the values of preserving this habitat as a refuge.

In the following year, he became one of the first cooperators with the FWS in its fledgling wetland restoration program. With the FWS, and on his own, McCormick restored more than 130 acres and flooded hundreds of acres of cropland each fall for migratory birds. He has constructed and placed over 50 goose nesting structures on his and neighboring wetlands, maintains nesting cover around water edges, delays mowing on upland areas to reduce nest destruction, plants upland food plots, and utilizes minimum tillage practices in his farming operation. He prepared a videotape on the construction and use of nesting structures that will be used to encourage local farmers and others to build and place nesting structures properly. He has become a leading ambassador for the FWS wetland restoration program.

As McCormick continued to improve the natural resources on his farm, it became a national model. In 1988, he was named Conservationist of the Year by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The Sierra Club featured his wetland enhancement activities in a national video. So did the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in its instructional video, “The Wealth in Wetlands.” McCormick was also the preeminent focus of a major conservation promotion by ESPN, and has been spotlighted in numerous newspaper features and publications, such as National Wildlife magazine.

McCormick also was invited to testify at a public hearing before the national Domestic Policy Council’s Task Force on Wetlands and recently testified before the House Appropriations Committee on the value of the FWS’s Partners for Wildlife Program, especially the voluntary wetland restoration component. One of his major achievements was being selected “Special Honor Winner” over 174 other national winners in the Farming in the Flyway Contest sponsored by Successful Farming magazine, Ducks Unlimited, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the American Cyanamid Company.

As Leopold was in his day the best known conservationist farmer in the land, Ray McCormick is arguably today’s finest conservation farmer, and welcomes visitors to his land for a personal tour to explain his life’s work.

— David C. Hudak, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service