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2007 Lone Star Land Stewards Showcase Wildlife Conservation
AUSTIN, Texas — For wildlife habitat conservation to happen on a landscape level in Texas, it will have to occur on private property, which makes up the bulk of land holdings in the state. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Sand County Foundation are looking to recognize those who have shown exemplary efforts to manage their property as ambassadors of conservation.
On May 23 at the Omni Southpark Hotel in Austin, TPWD will recognize eight regional land stewards, representing private ranches in various ecological regions, plus three separate categories recognizing achievements for wildlife management associations, special contributions and corporate efforts. Also, the Leopold Conservation Award for Texas will be presented to the 2007 statewide land steward, still to be announced.
The 12th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards recognize and honor private landowners for their accomplishments in habitat management and wildlife conservation. The program is designed to educate landowners and the public and to encourage participation in habitat conservation. TPWD’s primary partner in the awards is the Sand County Foundation, with sponsors that include Texas Wildlife Association, Alcoa Rockdale Operations, The Nature Conservancy of Texas, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Texas Farm Bureau.
“Each year we see a diverse group of dedicated landowners managing their wildlife and natural resources in innovative ways,” said Linda Campbell, TPWD Private Lands Program director. “They are models for others to emulate in today’s changing Texas.”
Lone Star Land Steward Awards program objectives are to recognize private landowners for excellence in habitat management and wildlife conservation on their lands, publicize the best examples of sound natural resource management practices, encourage youth education and participation in promoting responsible habitat management and improved ecosystem health, promote long-term conservation of unique natural and cultural resources, promote ecosystem awareness and acknowledge the best conservation practices in the state’s 10 ecological regions, enhance relationships between private landowners and Texas natural resource agencies, and illustrate the important role of private landowners in the future of Texas natural resources.
For the third year, the Lone Star Land Steward Awards are benefiting from an association with Sand County Foundation, an international non-profit organization devoted to private landowner conservation. Each ecoregion award recipient and the wildlife management association recipient will receive $1,000 from the Foundation, while the Leopold Conservation Award recipient will receive $10,000 and the Leopold crystal award.
“We are once again proud to participate in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lone Star Land Steward Awards program,” said David Allen, Sand County Foundation Vice-President. “Texas has a great tradition of private landowners who practice sustainable conservation. The Leopold Conservation Award is an opportunity for us to honor their work.”
The Leopold Conservation Award honors the legacy of Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), who is considered the father of wildlife ecology. His collection of essays, “A Sand County Almanac,” remains one of the world’s best-selling natural history books. Leopold’s godson, Reed Coleman, formed Sand County Foundation in 1965 to protect the Leopold farm from encroaching lot development along the Wisconsin River.
For TPWD, the Leopold Conservation Award is the highest honor bestowed for conservation and responsible stewardship as part of the Lone Star Land Steward program. For Sand County Foundation, the Texas award is one of six Leopold Conservation Awards planned for private landowners in various states across the U.S this year.
This year’s recipients characterize the unique cultural and natural heritage of Texas. Landowners restoring degraded habitats while conserving flora and fauna are a common thread. For the first time, the awards recognize a residential conservation development in the special category. Following are summaries of stewardship highlights for each of the ecoregion and category recipients.
Coastal Prairies and Marshes — McFaddin Enterprises
The McFaddin Ranch was established in Victoria County in 1877 by James Alfred McFaddin. A century later, the property was divided among heirs and Bob McCan continued the family land management tradition on his share of the ranch. The family ranch holdings and a 55,000 acre lease ranch in Refugio and Bee counties are operated as one management unit under the family name of McFaddin Enterprises.
The McFaddin Enterprise ranches include three divisions covering more than 75,000 acres managed holistically for both livestock and native habitat and populations of wildlife. Rotational grazing and a systematic approach to applying brush management techniques to the landscape to compound each technique has improved diversity and production. Land management practices on the McFaddin ranches focus on an ecosystem management approach including preservation of the soil, improved water availability and increased vegetative diversity and range production.
All Divisions participate in studies on systematic brush management through the Grazing Land Cooperative Initiative grants, quail management, research on invasive fire ant management and affects of native flora and fauna, prescribed burning workshops and high school habitat judging Competitions. Riparian vegetation and water quality studies have also been conducted on these ranches.
McFaddin Enterprises has also utilized many conservation agencies in order to maximize potential income while fostering good land stewardship by partnering with many governmental and private entities.
Cross Timbers and Prairies — Litteken Ranch
The Litteken Ranch in Clay County is owned and operated by Arthur Litteken, who began putting the property together in the early 1990s and has increased the size since then by purchasing additional adjoining tracts as they became available. During that time he has implemented numerous improvements to the 2,950-acre ranch and has operated under a TPWD-approved Wildlife Management Plan for 11 years
Income for the ranch is generated primarily from its livestock operation and is supplemented through lease hunting and fishing . The ranch is divided into 19 pastures. A 180 acre old field was replanted to a mixture of native grasses and forbs and an additional 225 acres are maintained in coastal bermuda grass. These 405 acres of restored field and improved grass pastures, representing less than 15 percent of the ranch acreage, are used to sustain the ranch’s cow-calf cattle herd for six months during the growing season while the remainder of the ranch’s native grass pastures receive complete deferment.
The density and distribution of invasive brush species, primarily mesquite, are controlled mechanically (grubbing and raking) and chemically through participation in USDA NRCS cost-share programs. Herbicides are aerially-applied in alternating strips annually to maintain vertical woody structure and to minimize “forb shock.” Sites that are disturbed as the result of mechanical brush control are reseeded with a mixture of native grasses and forbs.
Outreach activities hosted by the Litteken Ranch include bi-annual tours for area county extension agents, several field days in conjunction with the Cooperative Extension Service and the NRCS, a Quail Appreciation Day, “Hello Neighbor” tours for local landowners, an annual pre-season educational program for the ranch’s hunters, and Boy Scout outings.
The crossroads of the Marcy Trail (an Arkansas to California trail used during the Gold Rush) and the old mail route between Decatur and Archer City occurs on the ranch. Old sandstone markers designating the intersection of these trails were recovered and permanently displayed by Litteken.
Edwards Plateau — Llano Springs Ranch
Situated in northeastern Edwards County, Llano Springs Ranch includes 5,100 acres of rocky hills and draws typical of the western Edwards Plateau. Operating as a family limited partnership, Llano Springs Ranch Ltd. targets holistic management of native populations and habitats as its primary focus. Ranch income is derived from a combination of commercial lease hunting activities for big-game species (including white-tailed deer, exotics, and turkey) and fly-fishing along the South Llano River. This income is supplemented with revenue from non-consumptive hiking, biking, jeep tours, birdwatching, and photography. Success is measured in habitat improvement and providing a quality outdoor experience.
The centerpiece of Llano Springs Ranch includes 3.5 miles of the spring-fed South Llano River. Notable increases in water quality and spring flow have resulted from a substantial brush management program initiated shortly after the ranch was purchased in 1994. There are 5 major springs on the tract, (including Llano Springs—headwaters of the Llano River) and numerous unnamed springs. Additional springs have begun to flow as a result of the tremendous cedar clearing effort.
Land management practices at Llano Springs focus on an ecosystem management approach including preservation of the soil, improved water availability, and increased vegetative diversity. Invading Ashe juniper regrowth is actively controlled through an aggressive brush management program utilizing heavy equipment and hand cutting on appropriate range sites. Much of this work has been accomplished through cost-share programs of the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Emphasis is placed on removal of cedar in mosaic patterns while sculpting the remaining woody overstory to provide excellent travel and escape cover for wildlife. Ranch owners have worked with TPWD since 1995 on implementation of their wildlife management program.
Dense mesquite thickets along the Llano River have also been manipulated in selected areas, while prescribed burns are utilized when range and weather conditions ALLOW. To date, over 2/3 of the total land area at Llano Springs Ranch (in excess of 2,700 acres) has been manipulated through the brush management program. The majority of this clearing effort has been personally conducted by Tom Vandivier.
Llano Springs Ranch continues to provide significant educational outreach, particularly to youth. The ranch has hosted various conservation-based field trips for university students and offered hunts for the Texas Youth Hunting Program. The Vandivier family takes a hands-on approach to management with all members contributing to the hunting operation as well as other recreational income-generating activities. Likewise, the family continues to participate in cooperative research efforts with TPWD.
Pineywoods — White Rock Pasture
White Rock Pasture near Trinity has integrated habitat management initiatives such as prescribed burning into their forest management to benefit wildlife and reduce the risks of wild fire. They use a saw timber management strategy on the 11,700-acre property to improve habitat for turkeys, quail and other species that benefit from mature pine timber stands.
Under previous ownership, the property was managed primarily for pulpwood production and leased for hunting. Since 2002, the property, managed according to a TPWD-approved wildlife management plan, has been active in the Managed Lands Deer Program.
White Rock Pasture is also actively involved in managing for species of concern. They participate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a Habitat Conservation Plan for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers as well as a Candidate Conservation Agreement for the Neches River rose mallow.
Post Oak Savannah — Spring Branch Ranch
From 1950-1999, livestock grazing was the primary business activity on the Spring Branch Ranch in Bastrop County, currently 426 acres in size. This century, the ranch switched to coastal hay production, including organic hay, and wildlife management. The result is a property with more abundant and diverse plant and animal species, lush native habitat and cleaner water for people and wildlife.
Owners Melissa Cole and Mike Reusing have re-established native grasslands through brush control, removing more than 1,000 eastern red cedar trees annually in the past two years.
They have also focused on wetland restoration and improvement, using the cut cedar to build water control structures across previously dry creeks to catch and hold supplemental water for wildlife. They also removed reeds around parts of their lake to provide access for wading waterbirds and songbirds.
The owners have planted 1,000 native trees and shrubs on the land in the past five years. The result is greatly improved cover and native forage for white-tailed deer, birds and a variety of other species.
Recognizing the value of separately owned land holdings working together for regional benefits, they re-established travel corridors for wildlife to travel from the Army National Guard’s nearby Camp Swift through hay pastures. This was done by planting trees and allowing native brush, forbs and grasses to grow in strips within the pastures.
Two years ago, they became the first producer of organic hay in Bastrop County, conducting extensive experiments with compost tea and organic fertilizers, and offering advice based on their learning to numerous other ranchers.
They participate in the Lower Colorado River Authority’s voluntary River Watch program, conducting regular water quality sampling under LCRA supervision of the ranch’s 6-acre, spring-fed lake, the headwaters of Dogwood Creek, which flows into the Colorado River.
All these practices have caused a surge in wildlife diversity and abundance. For example, wild turkeys were common three decades ago on the ranch but had not been seen since, partly due to overgrazing by previous owners, and now turkeys are common throughout the ranch.
The owners have been gracious about sharing their knowledge, and the ranch has become a substantial demonstration facility for other ranchers and property owners for the past seven years.
Rolling Plains — Merrick Davis Ranch
The 13,622-acre Merrick Davis Ranch in Shackelford County was purchased by the Matthews family in the 1950s from the Merrick Davis Estate. The ranch is owned by John A. (Matt) Matthews and First Financial Trust & Asset Mgt. Co., in trust, for John J. Matthews and James A. Matthews. Rick Hanson, H&M Cattle Co., is the ranch manager.
The Merrick Davis Ranch places emphasis on the production of native grasses and forbs as forage for livestock and habitat for wildlife. Grazing and brush management in the last 10 years has significantly improved the quantity and quality of native grasses and forbs and stabilized the soils from erosion. The Merrick Davis “system” uses rotational grazing, prescribed burning, and brush management to enhance and maintain the habitat. All herbaceous and woody plants on hillsides and riparian areas are protected from mechanical manipulation to maintain wildlife corridors, reduce erosion, and provide escape, thermal, roosting, and screening cover for deer, upland game birds, and non-game animals.
Lake McCarty, the water source for the city of Albany, borders the ranch on the southeast. A significant portion of the watershed for the lake lies within the Merrick Davis Ranch. The land stewardship practices on the Merrick Davis have improved the water quality and reduced soil erosion into Lake McCarty.
Aeration is used on deep soil sites to promote water infiltration, stimulate annual weeds, enhance plant diversity, and increase herbaceous ground cover for future prescribed burns. Other wildlife management practices on the ranch include the construction of spreader dams to capture water, half cutting mesquites in areas where quail cover is limiting, and re-seeding old farmland with native grass mixtures.
The Merrick Davis Ranch is home to healthy populations of white-tailed deer, bobwhite quail, turkey, birds of prey, Texas horned lizard, non-game mammals, dove, and grassland birds.
South Texas — Temple Ranch
The Temple Ranch is a living showcase of the benefits of hard work, proper wildlife management, and good land stewardship has on previously degraded rangeland.
Most of the habitat on the ranch was chained more than 25 years ago to remove woody cover and increase grass growth for cattle grazing. Prior to 1992, when the Temple family purchased the ranch, the property suffered from severe overgrazing, erosion, and heavy hunting pressure. Grass and herbaceous cover were virtually non-existent. The Temple family has since instituted many beneficial management practices to increase the habitat quality for both game and non-game wildlife populations on the ranch.
These management practices are applied in various designs in order to increase plant diversity and "edge" while still maintaining cover requirements for both game and non-game wildlife. Protecting the proper amount of habitat is very important to the goals of the Temple Ranch. Different management practices are applied based on soil type and habitat, and include many different mechanical treatments, judicious use of cattle grazing, selective ground application of herbicide in monocultures, and reseeding of native grasses. Prescribed fire is used extensively in areas with adequate fuel loads and as a follow up treatment after mechanical manipulation.
All riparian areas are left intact, with at least a 75- to 100-yard buffer from brush manipulation. Areas with suitable habitat and soil types have been improved to provide more feeding and nesting areas for turkeys. Natural roosting sites for turkeys are protected, and artificial roost sites have also been erected. What was once poor to marginal turkey habitat has been transformed into good habitat, and the turkey population has responded favorably.
Water sources are very important to wildlife in the semi-arid South Texas region. The Temple Ranch has increased water distribution across the landscape, establishing a water source every ½ mile. Approximately 10 miles of water line supplies water continuously to wildlife water sources on the Ranch.
Trans-Pecos — Catto-Gage Ranch
The Catto-Gage Ranch near Marathon in Brewster County covers 172,609 acres and its owners are descendants of Alfred S. Gage, who began his cattle business in the late 1880s.
Goals of the ranch include, the proper management of the various habitat types that will encourage healthy game and non-game wildlife populations, including pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk and scaled quail, while continuing to develop a cattle grazing strategy that will be commercially viable. The ranch’s diversity includes habitats ranging from the desert shrub/ grasslands and rolling foothills, to higher elevation pinion pine-juniper.
The ranch is currently participating in the Managed Lands Deer Program for mule deer and continues to seek management approaches that benefit both wildlife and cattle operations.
Prior to 1950, cattle, sheep and goats were part of the livestock operation. Today the focus is on feeder cattle (stocker operation) to provide more flexibility in grazing management. Since 2002, about 50 miles of new water line have been constructed, 50 new troughs added, 11 storage tanks and 4 wells have been drilled. The ranch is experimenting with solar powered pumps and new storage tanks with lids or covers.
In 2003, 6 locations totaling approximately 1,086 acres were enrolled into NRCS — Riparian Buffer Program. An additional 4,000 acres were also included to these projects based on fencing needs and habitat enhancement projects. Habitat projects include spring restoration through the use of horizontal drilling, dirt tank construction, contour ripping with native grass seeding and prescribed burning.
Cooperative research projects with Sul Ross State University and Texas A&M include prescribed fire, archeology and the development of an “early warning” drought system for land owners using satellite imagery, weather data and forage inventories.
Wildlife Management Association — Cherry Spring WMA
For 17 years, the Cherry Spring WMA in Gillespie County has strived to integrate sound wildlife management practices with passing along the state’s hunting heritage to the next generation. The association is spread across 21,000 acres in three rural communities.
Members are actively involved in various habitat enhancement efforts, including rotational grazing, prescribed burning, brush control and development of food plots. These activities have resulted in higher Rio Grande turkey populations and a healthier deer population. They annually conduct deer spotlight census counts to evaluate association management goals and to set deer harvest recommendations with assistance from TPWD wildlife biologists.
The association is intensively involved in providing youth hunting opportunities on member properties through the Texas Youth Hunting Program.
Corporate — Lower Colorado River Authority
LCRA was established in 1934 as a conservation and reclamation district. LCRA is involved in many conservation, restoration and enhancement projects throughout its statutory district (Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Colorado, Fayette, Llano, Matagorda, San Saba, Travis and Wharton counties). It also is involved in the education of youth, teachers and landowners, and it provides outreach activities to help meet the needs of the citizens of the district. LCRA’s ability to partner with state and federal agencies with conservation responsibilities allows it to leverage resources, both monetary and human, to provide a variety of on-site demonstrations and educational opportunities for diverse participation.
LCRA manages more than 16,000 acres of public lands properly for the citizens of Texas. The lands serve not only as islands of wildlife habitat in an ever-changing landscape but also as a means for individuals to learn more about and to connect with nature. In 1996, LCRA dedicated some 2,585 acres of land to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve to protect the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo habitats. LCRA is also active in other conservation efforts involving threatened species, including a cooperative partnership to develop a habitat conservation plan to help preserve the limited remaining habitat of the Houston toad.
LCRA is also involved in private lands management initiatives, beginning in 1993 with the North Central Fayette County Wildlife Management Cooperative. Through these efforts during the past 14 years, seven wildlife cooperatives have been created in Fayette County, and more than 125,000 acres of private and public lands are being managed for wildlife. This cooperative approach to natural resource conservation has proven to be an effective tool in helping minimize the effects of land fragmentation on wildlife resources. LCRA has partnered with TPWD on a quail relocation project in Fayette County, employing disking and prescribed burning to enhance quail habitat on about 500 acres of native grass plots.
In an effort to improve water quality and enhance aquatic habitat, LCRA developed a comprehensive plan to manage aquatic vegetation at Lake Bastrop to control excessive growth of hydrilla, worked with local residents and TPWD to add a variety of native plants to Lake LBJ. LCRA offers several water conservation programs for municipal and agricultural water customers. Municipal water conservation programs at LCRA focus on providing education, technical assistance and customer service to retail and wholesale customers.
In the mid-1980s LCRA began developing its system of natural science laboratories and centers. More than 3,380 acres in the LCRA parks and open space system are in natural science centers. Cooper Farm was the original, with an emphasis on educating landowners on providing for wildlife habitat in a traditionally agricultural area. The newer centers focus on educating youth and adults about the environment. Visitation to these centers was over 25,335 people in 2005.
Special Recognition for Conservation Development — The Woodson Place
For the first time, the Lone Star Land Steward program is recognizing the efforts of a residential developer/builder. The Woodson Place is a model conservation development integrating native plant wildscaping practices with residential building. It is a unique neighborhood of 38 half-acre home sites on 66 acres in Rains County, with 39 acres set aside as open space with hiking trails, meadows, woodlands and a small lake.
The development goal is to reduce the neighborhood’s ecological footprint by clustering groups of homes to preserve significant, contiguous open spaces, enhancing sustainability through water conservation and energy efficient practices. The project’s model home earned a top, 5-star rating from the City of Austin Green Building Program.
Habitat enhancement regimes include water development, fire ant control, erosion control, bird nesting structures, tree snag preservation and wildflower planting. When the project was initiated in 1999, the property had been severely overgrazed. A native prairie restoration effort consisting of wildflower seed plantings, as well as the first controlled burn in 2007, has helped the land recover dramatically. Each lot buyer gets six hours of free consulting with a landscape architect who specializes in native plant wildscaping.
By demonstrating how residential development and conservation can co-exist, The Woodson Place is part of an important emerging trend in the state to shape new thinking and approaches at a time when suburban sprawl and rural land fragmentation are causing an escalating loss of open space.
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