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May 27, 2010

Panhandle Rancher Jim Bill Anderson Receives 2010 Leopold Conservation Award for Texas

AUSTIN — A lifelong passion for preserving prairie land seeded by a high school summer job that didn’t turn out quite like he expected has earned Panhandle rancher Jim Bill Anderson the 2010 Leopold Conservation Award for Texas, a prestigious recognition conferred by Sand County Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as part of its Lone Star Land Steward Awards program.

"As Mr. Anderson puts it, he believes in ‘partnering with the prairie,” says Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. "To visit his ranch is to travel back in time for a glimpse of the Canadian River country pretty much the way it was when Spanish explorers first trekked across the Panhandle. It is hard to imagine a more deserving recipient of this award than Jim Bill Anderson."

The 59-year-old Anderson received a $10,000 check along with a crystal trophy at the annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards banquet in Austin on May 26. He said he plans to use the money toward developing an interpretive center on his ranch so everyone from school children to fellow ranchers can learn about voluntary conservation techniques and the ecosystem of his part of Texas.

The TPWD Land Steward program is partnered with Sand County Foundation, an international non-profit organization devoted to private land conservation. The Leopold Conservation Award in Texas is sponsored by the Bradley Fund for the Environment and Silver Eagle Distributors.

Located on the Canadian River in Hemphill County, the 5,000-plus acre Anderson Ranch has been in Anderson’s family since 1946, when his grandfather J.O. Wells bought it. Though his forebears also had a high regard for the land, since Anderson assumed full control of the ranch in 1981, he has restored its native grasses, eradicated water-sucking invasive plant species, managed its quail, Rio Grande turkey, white-tail deer and the rare lesser prairie chicken while operating a working cattle ranch.

Anderson won his first conservation-related recognition in 1965, when as a Boy Scout he earned a merit badge in soil conservation and nature. But it was an experience two years later that really proved transformative.

“When I was a sophomore at Canadian High School, I got hired for the summer by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Plains Research Station in Woodward, OK.,” Anderson recalls. “I loaded up two young horses thinking I would be spending the summer working as a cowboy, but I spent most of my time crawling on my hands and knees collecting native grass clippings for analysis. That probably woke me up as much as anything to the importance of land stewardship, a term I like better than conservation.”

After graduating from high school, Anderson left the high plains for the piney woods of East Texas, studying business at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. But after the death of his father in 1974, he returned to Canadian and began managing the family ranch.

In 1981, he built a house on the ranch and devoted his full attention to running the ranch and 38,000 leased acreage. Slowly he began buying out the various family members who owned parts of the ranch, finally completing its reunification two years ago.

The Leopold Conservation Award honors the legacy of Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), 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.

"Jim Bill Anderson has transformed an average Texas Panhandle ranch into a world-class ranch that earns his family a living while allowing wildlife and native grasses to flourish. Anderson’s tireless efforts to sustain and improve his part of Texas makes him more than worthy of being honored with an award named for Aldo Leopold,” said Brent Haglund, Ph.D., Sand County Foundation president.

In nominating Anderson for the award, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist John Hughes (formerly based in Canadian but now assigned to the Denver area), cited several factors in demonstrating the rancher’s achievements as a steward of the land:

“There shouldn’t be a wall between running livestock and promoting wildlife,” Anderson says. “Good land management benefits both.”

Sponsors for the 15th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Partners in Fish and Wildlife Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, H. Yturria Land and Cattle Company, Texas Wildlife Association, USDA 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.

More information about the award, including how to nominate property owners, is on the TPWD Web site. Nominations are accepted June 1 through Nov. 30 each year for the following year’s awards program.

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