Welder Wildlife Foundation Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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SINTON, Texas – A uniquely Texan, private wildlife research and conservation institution commemorated its 50th year this month with an anniversary celebration on Oct. 16.

“50 Years of Excellence” was the theme of the 50th anniversary of the Rob & Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation. The refuge is located seven miles north of Sinton off Highway 77. Details are online (http://www.hometown.aol.com/welderwf/welderweb.html).

As a signal of the longstanding and close cooperation between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the foundation, TPWD Executive Director Robert L. Cook delivered the keynote address at the anniversary dinner.

The foundation came into being upon the death of Rob Welder in 1954. In his will, Welder established the foundation on 7,800 acres of prime wildlife habitat adjacent to the Aransas River in northern San Patricio County. He indicated that he wanted the foundation to conduct research and education in the field of wildlife management and conservation in the context of an operating ranch. This has been the mission of the foundation since its inception.

The first director of the foundation was Clarence Cottam, a renowned conservationist and ornithologist. Cottam served as director from 1954 until his death in 1973, when W. Caleb Glazener became director. Glazener was well known in Texas circles for his work with the Texas Game & Fish Commission, (which later became Texas Parks and Wildlife Department), especially his work with the Rio Grande turkey. Following Glazener’s retirement in 1979, James G. Teer became director, and served in that capacity for 20 years until his retirement in 1999. D. Lynn Drawe, who had been hired as assistant director in 1974, became director in 2000.

The funding sources of the Welder Wildlife Foundation include oil and gas royalties, cattle, interest on investments, and contributions. The foundation’s investment portfolio grew from oil and gas royalties in the early years, and now the foundation’s programs are funded through interest from investments.

The programs of the foundation include wildlife research, conservation education, outreach, and management of the natural habitats on its property. The student research program, initiated by the first directors and trustees in 1955, has assisted more than 300 graduate students from 66 universities in the pursuit of their master’s and doctoral degrees in fields related to wildlife management and conservation. The foundation’s first funded graduate student, Thadis W. Box, went on to become Dean of the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University. Welder students have produced more than 300 theses and dissertations, which are filed in the Welder Wildlife Foundation Library and at their respective university libraries. These student studies have resulted in more than 5,000 scientific journal publications. Currently there are 11 funded graduate students working under the Welder fellowship program. Since 1955, more than $5 million has been expended to support fellowships. The WWF has built considerable respect in the wildlife community through this graduate research program. The reputation and respect the foundation has built up over the years is a result of the hard work of these fine students who have made an impact in the field of wildlife conservation.

The education program was initiated in 1957 and today up to 5,000 people visit the refuge each year, including 100-150 junior and senior high public school groups, 25-35 college groups, and various special groups. Cottam initiated the first summer teacher’s workshop in 1957 as a result of a request from local public school teachers for a conservation workshop. Since that time, at least one workshop per year has been taught, with 20-25 teachers in attendance. In recent years, Selma Glasscock has initiated Conservation Across Boundaries, co-sponsored by the Welder Wildlife Foundation and the Boone and Crockett Club, in which 20 teachers from throughout the country take a two-week-long course in conservation biology. Proper habitat management of refuge lands is an important component of the foundation’s management program. The foundation strives to conduct research on applied land management practices and provide an example of good land stewardship to promote the wise use of our natural resources throughout the south Texas ranching community. Historically a coastal prairie, currently the vegetation of the refuge and the region is a shrubland-grassland complex. Current management strives for a 50:50 ratio of grassland to brushland. Primary tools by which the vegetation of the refuge is managed include grazing and prescribed fire. Mechanical and chemical means of brush control are used sparingly. The outcome of this approach to vegetation management is a grassland-shrubland habitat which enhances biodiversity.

The foundation complex includes administrative offices, library, museum, student study, lecture hall, laboratories, student dormitory, outdoor rotunda, five residences, and a bunkhouse for housing overnight groups. All buildings conform to the Mediterranean style selected by the original trustees and directors.

The foundation’s museum and collections feature 1,400 species of flowering plants, 430 species of birds, 55 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 55 species of mammals. The Quillin egg collection, dedicated in 1973, contains 10,000 eggs representing 400 species of birds. The visitor’s museum contains the only three-dimensional murals done by Frances Lee Jaques, originator of the technique. The newest addition to the museum is a collection of 305 taxidermy mounts of birds of North America and offshore islands. The WWF Library contains approximately 24,000 individual books, including 60 serial journals that are kept current, and many of which date back to original volumes.