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North Texas Ranch Earns Top Land Steward Award
FORT WORTH, Texas — The Richards Ranch in Jack County west of here has been named this year’s statewide Lone Star Land Steward by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The Lone Star Land Steward Awards recognize private landowners for their accomplishments in habitat management and wildlife conservation. The program is designed to recognize landowners, educate the public, and encourage participation in habitat conservation.
A new partner in the awards program, the Sand County Foundation, also presented the Richards Ranch with its Leopold Conservation Award for Texas. For the first time, the Wisconsin-based foundation is providing cash awards to Lone Star Land Steward Award recipients, including $1,000 for each regional winner and $5,000 for the statewide steward. The statewide steward will also receive a crystal award from the foundation.
The Hackley family was surprised with all others in attendance at the May 25 land steward awards banquet in Austin to learn they would receive the state’s highest recognition for private land wildlife conservation. Their 15,333-acre Richards Ranch shows how some traditions still run deep, having been owned by the family since 1865. John Hackley, the ranch’s general manager for the past 25 years, is a direct descendant of ranch founders James and Elizabeth Hensley. Hackley’s son Brent represents the 6th family generation to have loved, managed, and benefited from the ranch. The 7th generations, Brent’s pre-school children, are being mentored by their father, grandfather, and great-great-uncle and are waiting in the wings.
Livestock is still the ranch’s primary management emphasis and rotational grazing has doubled the conventional stocking rate in most years while increasing the biomass and diversity of grasses, which benefits groundwater by improving water infiltration through the soil. Recreational uses including hunting, birding, wildlife photography, and ranch heritage tours, which provide important revenue for the ranch. The Hackleys have freely shared their management successes and failures via field days, training seminars, and ranch tours conducted for other land managers. They have also freely provided hunts to youth and women to help promote hunting among non-traditional user groups.
“Families like the Hackleys exemplify a tradition of stewardship that may not be fully appreciated outside the ranching and wildlife communities, but which is critical for the future of wildlife,” said Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission chair, who presented the land steward awards. “No one will have more impact on the future of Texas wildlife than the people who are closest to the land that sustains them both. Stewardship requires stewards and the Hackleys are some of the finest there are.”
This year’s awards gained a new cachet through association with famed ecologist Aldo Leopold and the Sand County Foundation.
“The next generation of environmental activists is private landowners working on lands they own and control and motivated by incentives and voluntary action, not the government and the courts,” said Brent Haglund, foundation president. “Governments cannot own or control enough land to adequately protect our natural resources.”
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is considered the father of wildlife ecology. A Wisconsin forester by background, he became a renowned scientist and university scholar, philosopher, and writer. Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” remains one of the world’s best-selling natural history books, recounting stories of his Wisconsin farm through a combination of poetic prose and keen observations of the natural world. On his farm and throughout his career, Leopold championed land stewardship, calling for a new “land ethic” that values the ecological web of life, land and water. His cornerstone book “Game Management” (1933) defined the fundamental skills and techniques for managing and restoring wildlife populations. This landmark work created a new science that intertwined forestry, agriculture, biology, zoology, ecology, education and communication.
Leopold’s godson Reed Coleman formed the Sand County Foundation in 1965 to protect the Leopold farm from encroaching lot development along the Wisconsin River. The foundation enlisted neighboring landowners to create a living memorial by preserving the Leopold property and allowing the foundation to do research and restoration on surrounding land. The original 120-acre Leopold farm’s surroundings now include cooperative management of more than 1,500 acres known as the Leopold Memorial Reserve.
Based on that original private land stewardship enterprise, the foundation’s mission today includes “providing public recognition of outstanding private conservation leadership and rewarding responsible stewards to inspire others by their example.”
“We would like to present Leopold Conservation Awards in 10-to-15 states within the next three-to-five years,” Haglund said. “Rather than starting from scratch in each state, we are seeking to partner with existing awards programs or events where we can lend our support.”
For more information about the Lone Star Land Steward Awards, including how to nominate a property, phone (512) 389-4395 or visit the TPWD Web site.
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