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2010 Lone Star Land Steward Awards Winners Announced
AUSTIN — When Mother Nature shines as she’s done this spring, it makes anyone with a plot of dirt look good. But, it’s those times when the rains don’t come and the heat turns most of Texas brown and crunchy that a landowner’s mettle is put to the test. Those who can keep habitat conditions going in tough times as well as good are true conservation heroes.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lone Star Land Steward Awards program recognizes those private landowners for excellence in habitat management and wildlife conservation on their lands. The awards also seek to publicize the best examples of sound natural resource management practices and promote long-term conservation of unique natural and cultural resources.
This year’s crop of award winners represents broad and sometimes unique conservation goals, from traditional wildlife management alongside livestock operations to conservation missionaries who’ve taken to the Internet to share their gospel.
Again this year the Lone Star Land Steward Awards are benefiting from a partnership with Sand County Foundation, an international non-profit organization devoted to private lands conservation. The Leopold Conservation Award recipient will be honored this year’s award banquet, set for May 26, 2010 at the Austin Airport Marriott South Hotel, and will receive $10,000 and the Leopold crystal award.
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.
The Lone Star Land Steward Awards are sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, H. Yturria Land and Cattle, Texas Wildlife Association, U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lower Colorado River Authority, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Agricultural Land Trust and Llano Springs Ranch, Ltd.
This year’s ecoregion winners characterize the unique cultural and natural heritage of Texas. Landowners restoring degraded habitats while conserving flora and fauna are a common thread. Following are summaries of stewardship highlights for each of the ecoregion and category recipients.
Blackland Prairie — Quebe Farm, Brenham, Washington County; Charlotte von Rosenberg, Owner/Operator
Quebe Farm in Washington County has been owned by the same family for 122 years. Practices such as rotational grazing, prescribed burning, selective removal of invasive species are used to restore and maintain diverse native blackland prairie for a variety of grassland species. A 12-acre prairie remnant on the property that has never been plowed serves as one of the most diverse examples of native blackland prairie in the county. Charlotte von Rosenberg has hosted many educational programs for Texas AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M University, local Master Naturalists, Native Plant Society, Texas Wildlife Association and others. In 2007, she opened a bed and breakfast on the farm to share her dedication and love of the prairie with photographers and nature enthusiasts.
Cross Timbers and Prairies — Rocosa Ridge Ranch, Meridian, Bosque County; Bruce Berg, Owner/Operator
Rocosa Ridge Ranch is a fine example of how excellent stewardship of a successful livestock operation can increase forage production and species diversity, enhance wildlife habitat, protect endangered species, and improve watershed conditions. Forage monitoring and flexible stocking, rotational grazing, brush sculpting, and a five-to-seven-year prescribed burning rotation all contribute to excellent range condition. The ranch has used NRCS Farm Bill programs and the TPWD Managed Lands Deer Program to enhance habitats and manage deer populations. They also participate in the Fort Hood Recovery Credit System to protect Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat. The ranch has hosted numerous range and wildlife management field days and hunts for youth of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.
Edwards Plateau — Flagler Ranch, Edwards/Real Counties; George G. Matthews, Owner; Louis Scherer III, Operator
In the heart of the Edwards Plateau, Flagler Ranch includes 3,600 acres of limestone hills and draws located along the western edge of the Guadalupe River watershed near Mountain Home-an area locally known as the Divide. Since its purchase in 1992, owner George Matthews has focused on an ecosystem management approach including an aggressive prescribed burning program to control invasive prickly pear and regrowth ash juniper in an effort to repair more than 100 years of range abuse. Commercial whitetail and exotic hunting provides the majority of ranch income-with many of the trophies being of record-book quality. The extensive burning program has improved woody browse structure and diversity on the ranch with approximately 400 acres now deemed suitable nesting habitat for the endangered Black-capped vireo.
Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes — Lone Oak Ranch, Anahuac, Chambers County; Dave Wilcox and Oliver Smart, Owners/Operators
Proper grazing, prescribed burning, Chinese tallow control, and moist soil management practices are used to enhance both upland and wetland habitats on the Lone Oak Ranch. Providing high quality wintering habitat for waterfowl is an important goal. A number of old rice fields on the ranch have been converted to moist soil impoundments and managed using gravity fed canals to create productive resting and feeding areas for waterfowl. The ranch has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in hosting landowner workshops to demonstrate integration of agriculture and wildlife habitat management. As community leaders, the owners have shown how excellent stewardship can increase biological diversity and improve habitat for waterfowl and migratory songbirds.
High Plains — Running R Ranch, Muleshoe, Bailey County; Dr. Robert Lepard, Owner; Reggie Johnson, Operator
The Running R Ranch, located in the sandhills of Bailey County, provides habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including bobwhite and scaled quail, pheasant, and mule deer. The ranch participates in the NRCS special EQIP area for Lesser Prairie Chickens and is working with TPWD in the Managed Lands Deer Program for mule deer. Habitat improvements include cross fencing for grazing management and installation of water lines and guzzlers to provide water for livestock and wildlife. A leader in the community of Muleshoe, Dr. Robert Lepard has opened his ranch for landowner field days, to graduate students at Texas Tech University, and to local high school students seeking summer employment. Stewardship and continuous learning is the goal and the commitment of the Running R Ranch.
Pineywoods — Ewing Mound, Lufkin, Angelina County; Simon W. Henderson III, Owner/Operator
Ewing Mound is managed primarily for pine timber, with management practices that include thinning stands based on a 50-to-60-year rotation and prescribed burning to enhance herbaceous vegetation. Wildlife goals for the property include producing quality white-tailed deer, reducing feral hogs, enhancing habitat for eastern wild turkey, and managing a small population of bobwhite quail. Historically, part of the sawmill town of Ewing was located on the property. A prominent remnant of this era is the 11-acre "mill pond" and ruins of the sawmill. Simon W. Henderson III is responsible for the creation of the Simon and Louise Henderson Wildlife Research Institute at the Arthur Temple College of Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University. The property is available to SFA students for research and field trips. Community youth groups are also welcomed.
Rolling Plains — Mott Creek Ranch, Matador, Motley County; Marisue Potts Powell, Owner/Operator
Mott Creek Ranch is committed to conserving natural resources while balancing the needs of people, cattle and wildlife. Forage production, plant diversity, fawning and nesting cover have improved due to flexible stocking rates, rotational grazing, water development, and brush management. The ranch participates in the TPWD Managed Lands Deer Program for White-tailed and Mule Deer and has enhanced quail habitat and riparian areas through the NRCS EQIP program. Habitat management for wildlife works hand-in-hand with cattle raising, nature tourism and preservation of cultural sites. The ranch has hosted trail rides, educational seminars and archeological excavation as well as mule deer research. According to Marisue Potts Powell, "Conservation . . . makes sense monetarily, aesthetically and morally. It is the right thing to do".
South Texas Plains — Duval County Ranch, Duval/Webb Counties; David Killam, Owner; David Kitner, Operator
The goals of the ranch are to foster quality habitat conditions for all native South Texas wildlife with emphasis on white-tailed deer and bobwhite quail. Through vision and hard work, David Killam and operator David Kitner have transformed the landscape from an abused rangeland to a healthy ecosystem with flourishing wildlife populations, while maintaining profitability. Grazing management, aeration, and prescribed burning are used to restore and enhance habitat. Supplemental water has been provided throughout the ranch, using polypipe, tanks, and guzzlers. The ranch has hosted several workshops on habitat and water improvements, cooperated in research, and hosted field days for college students. They have also hosted hunts for the Wounded Warriors and Hunts for Heros Organizations as well as the Texas Youth Hunting Program.
Trans Pecos — Brite Ranch, Valentine, Presidio County; Jane Brite, White Trust, Owner; Jim White, III, Operator
The Brite Ranch is striving to manage the balanced production of livestock and wildlife, with emphasis on mule deer, pronghorn, Carmen Mountain White-tails, desert quail, javelina and small game. Overall rangeland improvement through time is the ultimate management goal of the ranch, providing a diversity of quality habitats for native species while maintaining and improving grazing productivity for cattle. Income from hunting has become increasingly important over the last decades. The ranch is also exploring ecotourism opportunities for birding, geology exploration, and history. Unique features such as Capote Creek headwaters, cienega and falls have been protected by the ranch for over a century, as has the Brite Store, which has remained relatively unchanged since the days of Pancho Villa.
Wildlife Management Association — Edwards Plateau Prescribed Burning Association, Inc., 20 counties; Dr. Charles A. Taylor, Administrator
The Edwards Plateau Prescribed Burning Association was established in 1997 at the Texas AgriLife Research Station near Sonora. The purpose of the organization is to empower and equip ranchers to manage rangelands using prescribed fire. With more than 500 landowner members, this neighbor-helping-neighbor cooperative has provided the resources, education, and encouragement necessary to help restore fire to rangelands on a sustained basis. The EPPBA was the first burn cooperative in Texas and has been the model for others to follow. Members are encouraged to participate in as many prescribed burns as possible, building an experienced labor force ready to help each other. More than 600 prescribed burns on approximately 500,000 acres have been completed since 1997.
Corporation — Matador Ranch, Matador, Motley, Dickens, Cottle, Crosby and Floyd Counties; The Matador Cattle Company, Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC; Bob Kilmer, Operator
Covering 129,000 acres in five counties, the Matador Ranch has employed all the tools of range and wildlife management to continuously improve the long term health and productivity of its land and water resources. Their goal is to profitably sustain domestic livestock and wildlife in an optimal balance. Rest-rotational grazing systems that control seasonal use, duration, and stock density are used to manage for increased quality and quantity of desirable forage. Strategic brush management has improved riparian areas, enhanced natural springs, and improved nesting cover for turkeys and quail. White-tailed and mule deer are surveyed annually along with quail, feral hogs, javelina, coyotes and turkeys.
Special Recognition — Fort Sam Houston/Camp Bullis Training Site, U.S. Army, Bexar County; Colonel Mary Garr, Commander; Lucas Cooksey, Biologist
Camp Bullis is the 28,000-acre field training area of Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio. The base has been managing its deer herd, assisted by TPWD, since 1957. Management for endangered birds includes protection of more than 10,000 acres of dense old growth woodland for the Golden-cheeked warbler. Their Karst Management Plan guides efficient management of both cave biology and groundwater recharge. Goals for Camp Bullis include maintaining balanced ecosystems while enhancing military training and readiness. Innovations such as cable concrete water crossings and brush management using the low impact "cedar eater" help reduce erosion in sensitive areas. Camp Bullis also supports a wide range of natural resource research and demonstration.
Special Recognition — Education and Outreach — Bear Springs Blossom, Pipe Creek (Bandera), Bandera County; Peter and Marianne Bonenberger
Peter and Marianne Bonenberger found the place they call Bear Springs Blossom Nature Preserve quite by accident; while splitting their time between the Hill Country and their native Germany. A 125-acre island of old-growth juniper woodlands and canyons in eastern Bandera County, the property gets its name from Bear Springs Ranch-founded in 1866. After purchasing 80 acres and moving to the property, the Bonenberger’s founded the non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Bear Springs Blossom Nature Conservation Group to facilitate their interest in education and outreach. The organization now includes more than 900 members in 8 countries. A conservation easement now offers permanent protection for the entire 125-acre tract. At Bear Springs Blossom, lectures and guided tours are made available on a wide range of natural history topics and environmental issues.
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