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Outstanding Landowners Recognized for Stewardship
AUSTIN, Texas — These days, few private landowners can afford to focus their operations on one thing, such as cattle ranching, agricultural crops or even hunting. To be successful requires a combination of management practices. But in spite of the challenges, many owners of rural land continue to safeguard the wildlife, fields, forests and waters of Texas, even though many urban residents may not know it.
At a May 26 reception in Austin, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will recognize 11 owners and managers of ranches and other properties for their innovative and ecologically sound management of wild habitats with the 9th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards.
The Lone Star Land Steward Awards recognize private landowners’ ability to integrate traditional land uses that produce meat, agricultural crops and outdoor recreation opportunities with habitat management and wildlife conservation, natural resource education of youth and outreach to other groups, and partnerships with natural resource agencies.
In addition to individual ranchers and farmers, the awards recognize cooperative conservation efforts by wildlife management associations across the state, neighbors partnering with neighbors to create consistent land management across larger tracts of land. These co-ops help reverse the negative effects of land fragmentation, improve habitats for all species and help co-op members produce income from wildlife recreation. Also to be recognized are the conservation efforts of corporate and industry landowners and managers who use sustainable resource practices.
The Natural Resources Foundation of Texas, Lower Colorado River Authority, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Farm Bureau and the following banks help support the Lone Star Land Steward Awards through financial sponsorships: Farm Credit Bank of Texas, Capital Farm Credit, Heritage Land Bank, Southwest Texas Land Bank, AgriLand Farm FCS, Texas AgFinance, AgTexas FCS, Great Plains Ag Credit, and Ag Credit of South Texas. During the awards reception, co-hosted by the TPW Commission and its Private Lands Advisory Board, the overall, statewide 2004 Lone Star Land Steward Award winner of the year will be announced.
Last year, TPWD wildlife biologists provided technical guidance to more than 11,000 private landowners and developed 4,282 active wildlife management plans. Every one of this year’s Land Stewards operate under a TPWD wildlife management plan as part of their conservation strategy and many of the properties are getting conservation guidance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and funding assistance through the Farm Bill. Texas landowners may request free technical guidance by phoning TPWD at (800) 792-1112 and asking for Wildlife Information, Ext. 4505.
The following Lone Star Land Steward awardees include nine regional winners and two recipients in the special wildlife management association and corporate-foundation categories.
Rolling Plains — Aiken Ranch L. P., Don and Ed Aiken owner and operator, Fisher County.
Don and Ed Aiken are long time conservationists. The Aiken family has owned the 3,707-acre Aiken Ranch L. P. for more than 65 years. They are able to combine a livestock operation where they run stockers with a wildlife operation utilized by family and friends. While bobwhite quail and white-tailed deer hunting occur on the property, benefits to wildlife extend beyond game species. Non-game species from songbirds to horned lizards benefit from the Aiken’s land steward ethic.
The Aiken brothers are active in quail research and management, cooperating with governmental agencies and conservation organizations in Texas Quail Index, Texas Brigades and numerous field days.
Among the conservation strategies employed are a successful use of grazing as a management tool, brush sculpting performed in patterns that benefit a variety of wildlife species, water development that goes beyond stock tanks and windmills, and creation of about 100 acres of food plots.
Edwards Plateau — Buckhollow Ranch, William and Jan Cato owners, Uvalde and Real Counties.
William and Jan Cato purchased the 6,000-acre Buckhollow Ranch in Uvalde and Real counties in 1997, with the sole purpose of restoring it to its natural state. The ranch’s primary land management goal is to manage and improve the ranch for wildlife diversity and to provide optimum wildlife habitat. The emphasis is on improving the habitat through proper range and wildlife management and to maintain healthy, native wildlife populations, specifically nongame, threatened, and endangered species.
Two endangered bird species, black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler, occur on the ranch, and management efforts are directed at improving the habitat for those species. Several sensitive plant species occur on the ranch, including the Tobusch fishhook cactus. The Catos have donated to indigo snake research. They allow universities, natural resource agencies, groups, and individuals to observe and enjoy the ranch and wildlife, and conduct research. They strongly support and encourage youth hunting and encourage their hunters to bring children to the ranch.
More than 1,200 acres of brush management has been accomplished on the ranch during the last 4 years, to improve the overall wildlife habitat. A prescribed burning program is in effect on the ranch. More than 1,800 acres have been treated with prescribed fire to date. There are eight food plots that are planted in the winter with a mixture of oats, wheat, rye, and Austrian winter peas. In the summer they are planted with vetch, mung beans, okra, cowpeas, and soybeans. Wildlife water abundance and distribution have been improved and there are six known springs, two windmills, eight water guzzlers, and four solar powered water wells scattered throughout the ranch.
Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes — Weinheimer Brothers Interest, Ed Weinheimer III and Steve Weinheimer owners, Wharton County.
The 1,418-acre Weinheimer Brothers Ranch is, according to waterfowl biologist David Lobpries, one of the premier mottled duck production areas along the entire Texas coast. The topography of the hay pastures and the interspersed 250 acres of wetlands, along with the habitat management of the Weinheimer Brothers, make this ranch a "mottled duck factory deluxe."
The ranch has operated under a TPWD wildlife management plan for more than 10 years.
Stocker cattle are grazed in an intensive rotational system during the spring and summer, facilitated by 17 miles of electric cross fencing and pasture irrigation. Grass reserves are left for potential drought conditions. Haying is also a source of income. Rice production was ceased and fields were converted to pasture. Haying operations are managed around mottled duck production.
Seven of 10 wetlands have been increased in size and developed totaling 250 acres under the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project (TPWP). Winter food plots are planted throughout the ranch and woodlands are fenced to exclude cattle.
High Plains — Frost and Leland Sandhills Ranch, June Leland Wildlife Foundation, Yoakum County.
The Frost and Leland Sandhills Ranch consists of 7,418 acres of mixed grass prairie land once home to large numbers of rare prairie chickens whose habitat is slowly being reduced due to habitat fragmentation. Also occurring on the property is a healthy number of mule deer and pronghorn, badger and porcupine.
In recent years, the foundation entered into cooperative agreements with various resource agencies to cost share efforts to improve wildlife habitat on the ranch and to conduct research. These agreements include the construction of permanent wildlife watering facilities, establishment of food plots, deferred grazing during growing seasons, enhancement of habitat by reduction of undesirable plants, and a three-year research project on the lesser prairie chicken.
Future plans include development of permanent public viewing areas for educational and recreational purposes.
Cross Timbers — Klondike Ranch, Mr. and Mrs. Duncan Boeckman owners and Jerry and Glenda Miller operators, Johnson County.
The 1,046-acre Klondike Ranch overlooking the Brazos River was founded in 1902 and owned by the Boeckmans for 14 years. They are dedicated to the preservation, restoration and enhancement of habitat for native and migratory wildlife species, including the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which has been documented on the ranch.
An active brown-headed cowbird-trapping program is conducted to help to reduce nest parasitism and increase nesting success of resident and Neotropical songbirds. Three dozen nest boxes have been installed to provide additional nesting sites for cavity nesting bird species including eastern bluebirds, Carolina chickadees, wrens, tufted titmice and other species.
Ongoing wildlife habitat improvement includes the restoration of 168 upland acres dominated by Ashe juniper to an oak-grassland savannah, use of prescribed burning, white-tailed deer population control, livestock grazing deferment, brush management, food plots and supplemental feeding.
Pineywoods — Johnson River Bottom Ranch, Cliff Johnson owner, Anderson County.
The 2,150-acre Johnson River Bottom ranch represents one of the most significant mature bottomland hardwood sites on the Trinity River. Adjacent to the Big Lake Bottom Wildlife Management Area, the property is a critical part of the Middle Trinity Basin Conservation Cooperative, a 120,000-acre wildlife cooperative. The bottomland habitat contains a rich array of mature hardwoods including overcup oak, willow oak, water oak, shumard oak, and many others. Retention of this important habitat is a critical factor in restoring natural water flows and soil replenishment within the Trinity Bottom.
Approximately 40 acres of shallow water wetlands were created on the northern boundary of the property. This serves as an important waterfowl attraction, with more than 10 species of ducks observed. Within the wetland unit, water levels are timed to take advantage of summer growing conditions. Gradual release of water during spring and summer insures vegetation diversity and seed production before fall flooding, providing excellent feeding conditions for waterfowl.
Income is derived primarily from timber operations in the uplands. Selective thinning of pine and some low-quality hardwoods, in conjunction with a pine plantation on about 100 acres forms the basis of timber activities. On uplands, removing marketable timber while retaining important mast producing oaks has released a profusion of high-quality browse plants in the understory, greatly benefiting white-tailed deer. Upland birds such as woodcock are common and wild turkey nesting habitat is provided due to proper management of the uplands.
Post Oak Savannah — Sonny D Ranch, Jim and Deborah Godwin owners and Terry Schulze operator, Caldwell County.
The first 600 acres of Sonny D Ranch were purchased in 1999 and today the ranch encompasses 813 acres. Seventy percent of the acreage consisted of post oak woodlands with a thick yaupon understory that originally provided very little diversity and habitat for wildlife. However, implementation of wildlife management and soil conservation practices has transformed the property into a healthy system with increased plant and animal diversity.
Prescribed burning is implemented annually within the post oak woods to thin the thick yaupon understory and improve the diversity of native grasses and forbs. Approximately 22 acres of food plots were created within the woodlands for white-tailed deer, Rio Grande turkey, and mourning dove. Numerous shelters and nest boxes have been established throughout the ranch, including 20 bluebird houses, 10 wood duck houses, 10 purple martin houses, and five bat houses.
Two existing ponds were reconstructed to increase water retention capacity and islands, inlets and lagoons were constructed and planted with herbaceous wetland plants and mast producing trees to provide habitat for waterfowl.
South Texas — Barnhart Q5 Ranch, John N. Barnhart owner and Claire Barnhart operator, Goliad County.
The 706-acre Barnhart Q5 Ranch has made remarkable habitat enhancements in the last decade. When the Barnharts took ownership of the property it was almost entirely a solid mass of brush. They have embraced habitat management recommendations and followed them to the letter. They now have a ranch rich in native grasses and forbs with just the right mixture of brush. They are now being rewarded with a corresponding increase in wildlife species diversity and abundance that will hopefully make their eco-tourism endeavors even more promising.
The ranch has been under a TPWD management plan for over 10 years. Among the management practices implemented include a four-pasture rotational grazing system, brush sculpting for maximum edge effect, restoration of the natural flow of Indian Creek to protect large live oaks and arrest erosion. Prescribed fire is also used annually in concert with roller chopping to control brush re-growth in cleared areas.
The Texas horned lizard is present on the property and red ant beds are protected.
The ranch is leased for quail and dove hunting. The record number of coveys encountered in a morning’s hunt is 34.
Trans Pecos — Maurin Ranch, Mark Maurin-owner, Terrell County.
The 17,151-acre Maurin Ranch has been under the current ownership for the past five years. At the time of purchase, sheep and goats had heavily overgrazed the ranch and the property was in the midst of a severe 10-year drought. Despite this challenge, tremendous progress has been realized during the past five years in rangeland condition, wildlife habitat, and soil and water conservation. Management emphasis is on mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelina, turkeys, scaled quail and improving the habitats that support them. However, the improved nesting cover, fawning cover, and forage diversity is benefiting a wide variety small mammals, songbirds, raptors, and large predators that reside on the property.
The ranch is accomplishing some important stewardship goals in a landscape with considerable limitations, including removal of cattle and Spanish goats, which allowed the habitat to begin the recovery process. Six water wells have been developed/maintained, which provide wildlife water to 50 troughs. Grazing deferment and deer population control have improved woody plant health and reproduction of preferred browse species.
Numerous archeological sites (Native American) exist on the property-they are strictly protected.
Corporate — Monticello Mines, TXU Mining owner, John Denman operator, Titus and Hopkins counties.
TXU Mining’s Monticello Mines complex is comprised of three lignite mining sites: Winfield North Mine, Winfield South Mine, and Thermo Mine. Since mining began in 1974, more than 17,000 acres have been reclaimed with about 7,000 acres in trees, native grasses, and wildlife habitat. In addition, 1,742 acres of wetlands, ponds, and streams have been created.
Over the past decade, land use planning has shifted away from predominately agriculture and domesticated vegetation to wildlife related uses focusing on native trees and ground covers. Together these reclaimed natural areas represent a substantial addition to the wildlife habitat in the area.
Through TXU’s management practices, more than 30 species of hardwoods have been restored on uplands and bottomlands and various native grasses and forbs have been re-introduced on prairie sites, which are effectively managed with the use of prescribed fire.
The operation has also successfully created diverse wetlands focusing on emergent marshes as well as creating broad flood plains. Marshes and ponds have been created with islands so that shorebirds and waterfowl may have adequate nesting habitat to increase brood survival.
Wildlife Management Association — Oakridge Ranch Wildlife Management Association, John Trickett president, Colorado County.
Oakridge Ranch is a 4,200-acre rural subdivision comprised of 175 landowners that own an average of 24 acres each. No parcel ownership is smaller than 15 acres. The Association has essentially reversed much of the inevitable habitat fragmentation that occurs with such developments.
The Association is organized into Special Interest Groups, which include white-tailed deer, native plants, birding, predator control, prescribed burning, game birds, pond management, neighborly get together, an astronomy group, and communication. The association follows a TPWD approved wildlife management plan.
White-tailed deer habitat and birds are the primary management targets. Annual surveys of deer, songbirds, and wild turkey are community events. Landowners have built birdhouses, put up supplemental feeders, constructed ponds, planted food plots, and engaged in predator control. Deer harvest is stressed, especially doe harvest, to control deer numbers. Cowbirds are trapped March-May of each year. Over 300 feral hogs are removed each year.
Education is a major part of the frequent community gatherings. Speakers on some facet of wildlife/habitat management are a part of each function. The Association cooperates with the other four Colorado County Wildlife Management Associations by holding joint field days. Scouting groups have also participated in educational events. A Web site (http://www.ORWMA.org/) keeps members posted on habitat management activities and demonstrations.
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