Keeping Grass in Grass

Bethany Johnston hired to lead new program.

Sunset over corn fields.
Golden Horizon A bright sunset behind corn fields. © Will Conkwright/TNC Photo Contest 2016

Bethany Johnston grew up in the eastern Sandhills, in the southeast corner of Rock County, Nebraska, where she went to elementary school in a one-room country schoolhouse. Later, in high school, Johnston started grassland judging with a special teacher named Donald “Chief” Phillips, who loved range judging and taught generations of students how to compete all over the Great Plains. 

Johnston then studied food science and meat science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, with the aim of understanding the entire beef industry. When she graduated, she worked as a beef educator for 15 years with the Nebraska Extension in the Central Sandhills. When she moved back to her family’s ranch, she continued her career with the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Johnston will now be working in a new landscape for the Nebraska program—the eastern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, in the Upper Elkhorn watershed. In her role, Johnston will be assisting farmers and ranchers in navigating and utilizing federal programs to “keep grass in grass”—and the Sandhills intact.

“What attracted me to this role at TNC was the people,” she said. “Our ranch worked with Chad Bladow (prescribed fire program manager) and Joel Klammer (burn plan writer). The TNC people I have met made me want to work with them. They work FOR the producers. Even if landowners aren’t quite sure about The Nature Conservancy, they trust these individuals and the work they do—and the outcomes achieved.”

Johnston lives with her husband, Joel, on the family ranch 35 miles northwest of Burwell, along with their daughter, cowdogs (including a Jack Russell pup who thinks he is a cowdog), barn cats, ranch horses and a herd of Angus cattle.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.