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2006 Lone Star Land Steward Winners Announced

Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701,

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AUSTIN, Texas — What do a famous cattle baron, a Confederate burial site, a fourth generation ranching family and a power company have in common? They all play a role in exemplary land stewardship efforts the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is recognizing this year.

On May 24 at the Omni Southpark Hotel in Austin, TPWD will recognize 11 regional land stewards, including nine private ranches in various ecological regions, plus a cooperative category recognizing landowners who band together to help wildlife, and a corporate recipient. The statewide land steward of the year, also recognized with the Leopold Conservation Award for Texas, will be announced at the banquet. In addition to the regional and statewide award winners, for the first time TPWD will also be recognizing a small acreage land steward.

The 11th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards program recognizes and honors 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. Sponsors include Sand County Foundation, Farm Credit Banks of Texas, LCRA, Alcoa Rockdale, Texas Wildlife Association, and Texas Farm Bureau.

“This year’s group of honorees illustrates the diversity of landowners in Texas, each with a unique vision,” said Linda Campbell, TPWD Private Lands Program Director. “No matter how much acreage you manage, everybody can do something to improve and enhance their habitat.”

Land Steward 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.

This year’s recipients characterize the unique cultural and natural heritage of Texas. Landowners that are preserving historical landmarks while conserving flora and fauna are a common thread. For example, there is evidence that several Confederate burial sites and a tannery rock used in the making of saddles are on the Graff Ranch, the Pineywoods ecoregion award recipient.

The original headquarters of one of the state’s largest cattle operations dating back 100 years, the McFaddin Ranch in Jefferson County, is now the Sabine Ranch & Cattle Company, winners of the Gulf Coast Marshes and Prairies ecoregion award.

There are sites where nature has been revived, thanks to the stewardship efforts of these landowners. Such is the case in South Texas, where native plant restoration and research is a key component of the Stockard-Sirianni Ranch. And, on the Begert Limousin Ranch in the Rolling Plains, a fourth generation ranching family’s management practices are helping key wildlife species, such as lesser prairie chickens and Texas horned lizards.

Corporate — Reliant Energy/NRG Texas LP

The Environmental Partners Program initiated at Reliant Energy in the early 1990s laid the groundwork for monetary and in-kind support of multiple environmental projects in Texas. Among the many contributions, Reliant Energy and NRG Texas LP are active participants in the Galveston Bay Estuary Program. Reliant funding has been used to procure critical habitats, assist with environmental education efforts, develop land management programs, and plan for the future growth of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. Reliant Energy has also been a proud partner and participant in the Great Texas Birding Classic and partners at Armand Bayou Nature Center for 10 years. Reliant Energy serves on the Boards of multiple Texas environmental organizations that conserve, restore, and protect the important habitats of the Great State of Texas.

Pineywoods — Red River County — Graff Ranch

Ranch owner Stan Graff and operator Jeff Pennington have demonstrated how properties can be managed for multiple resources (cattle, forestry, water, and wildlife). The 4,000-acre ranch was one of the original release sites for the state’s eastern wild turkey restoration initiative and continues to support a healthy population. A holistic management philosophy has created ideal habitats for a variety of wildlife and plant communities. Both songbirds and waterfowl are being provided for through construction of bluebird nesting boxes and moist soil wetlands.

Trans Pecos — Midland County — Dove Acres Recreational Area

Contained within 155 acres is a shining example of how a property once overrun with invasive species like salt cedar, kochia and Russian thistle can be converted to prime wildlife habitat. Larry G. Cook has created a dove haven by removing much of the invasives and replacing them with small food plots and an extensive water pipeline system. In addition to dove hunting, the property provides a wide range of opportunities that include camping, mountain biking, hiking, dog training, horseback riding, archery, and a rifle/pistol shooting area. The property is also used as an outdoor classroom. In 2004, a local Boy Scout organization built artificial nest cones and placed them along the extensive trail system at Dove Acres to determine nesting use by doves. Wildlife biologists continue to monitor and install additional nesting cones. In addition, Youth Dove Hunts and charity events for Campfire USA have produced over $40,000 in charitable contributions for the Campfire organization.

Gulf Coast Marshes and Prairies — Jefferson County — Sabine Ranch & Cattle Co.

Exotic invasive plants have robbed much of the coastal prairies and marshes of native habitats capable of sustaining cattle, agriculture crops and wildlife. Chinese tallowtrees and water hyacinth are the biggest culprits and by eradicating these noxious plants, ranch owners Walter Umphrey and W.E. Wilson, Jr. have brought this 12,000-acre property back to life. The goal of the Sabine Ranch and Cattle Company is to operate a profitable farming, ranching, and hunting operation that, in the process, provides maximum wildlife benefits and protection of the land and native vegetation.. Regular census of mottled ducks, white-tailed deer, waterfowl, alligators, and feral hogs are conducted, and in 2005 the ranch supported the largest concentration of black-bellied tree ducks ever observed in Texas. Neighboring landowners who hunt or lease land to waterfowl hunters are now looking across the fence at the Sabine Ranch and the prospects are good that others will soon follow the management example the Sabine Ranch is providing. The ranch serves as a valuable demonstration area for both the public and private sector.

South Texas — Frio County — Stockard-Sirianni Ranch

The list of land management practices being implemented by the W.A. Stockard Family on their 2,900-acre ranch is extensive and impressive. The ranch has been actively involved in a TPWD wildlife management plan since the mid 1990s and the results illustrate what long term habitat improvement can achieve. Among the many practices in place include rotational cattle grazing to maintain healthy plant communities in this fragile ecosystem, prescribed burning and mechanical treatments to manage vegetation, disking of food plots to promote native forb growth, water development and native plant restoration and research.

Rolling Plains — Hemphill County — Begert Limousin Ranch

The Begert Family has ranched in the Allison area for more than 60 years and Hiram and Darenda Begert have operated this property for the past 36 years. They are a fourth generation ranching family whose primary goal is to operate a profitable registered cattle operation and to maintain high-quality wildlife habitat with current population levels of key species such as lesser prairie chicken, Texas horned lizard, bobwhite quail, Rio Grande wild turkey and white-tailed deer. Among their accomplishments and endeavors toward stewardship of land and wildlife include, effectively using various grazing tools of rest, rotation, cross-fencing, and water development to improve the overall productivity of their ranch for livestock and wildlife. They have also instituted a restrictive harvest system to perpetuate deer buck quality as a function of antler size, age, and field-dressed body weights. The Begerts are cooperators with Texas Prairie Rivers Region, Inc., to promote nature tourism and land conservation in the eastern Panhandle, and are charter members of the newly-formed Texas Panhandle Prescribed Burn Association and the Prairie Rivers Landowners Association.

Post Oak Savannah — Goliad County — Lantana Ridge Ranch

Ranch owners James and Mary Fuller have successfully balanced a working cattle operation, farming and recreational hunting on their 6,400-acre property through a series of comprehensive management efforts. The ranch utilizes a variety of tools such as grazing, prescribed fire and multiple mechanical methods to improve the plant and animal diversity on the area. Habitat management practices have had a positive influence on plant diversity and plant community vigor and health. Historical cattle stocking rates have been decreased and the grazing system implemented on the ranch is centered on using cattle as a tool to create and manage the habitat for wildlife. Land formerly in agriculture row crops has been converted into a 100-acre shallow water wetland for the benefit of waterfowl and other wetland dependent species of wildlife. Lantana Ridge Ranch’s commercial lodge operation has always made special efforts in organizing youth hunts and family oriented recreation, including fishing and hunting opportunities. The goal is centered on providing visitors a friendly and comfortable visit, experiencing native animals in their native habitat.

High Plains — Dallam County — Adolph Hill Trust

The land known as Adolph Hill Trust has been owned by this family for 50 years and operated by Robert and Ruby Young for the past 28 years. Located in the ‘High Lonesome’ country on Coldwater Draw in the northwest corner of the Panhandle, this land is home to grassland birds, scaled quail, ring-necked pheasants, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope in an intensively agricultural setting. The Young’s care for the land and skillful implementation of conservation practices in collaboration with resource management professionals serves as a model for other landowners in Dallam County who wish to accommodate the needs of wildlife with agricultural production. They have gained respect among professionals and landowners as people truly interested in land enhancement for aesthetics and wildlife while engaged in agricultural enterprises for profit. Some of their land management accomplishments and conservation endeavors include: seeding of more than 3,700 acres of farmland back to permanent cover using a native seed mixture for maximum wildlife habitat benefit; and establishing wildlife watering stations at strategic locations to benefit pronghorns, mule deer and grassland birds.

Edwards Plateau — Kimble County — Little Paint Creek Ranch

Little Paint Creek Ranch operates as a limited family partnership by owners Gary and Ollabelle Hall and operator Billy Braswell, focusing on recreational hunting of white-tailed deer and Rio Grande turkey. The ranch includes 10,818 acres of rocky hills and moderately steep draws typical of the western Edwards Plateau. Success is measured through improvement of native ecosystems and providing a quality outdoor experience to family, friends, and invited guests. Known for its crystal clear streams, Little Paint Creek Ranch boasts over 8 miles of natural flowing water, including the south fork of the Llano River. Notable increases in water flow and quality are a result of the sophisticated grazing and brush management programs at Little Paint. A minimum of 10 active springs are currently located throughout the property. The ranch continues to overcome the abuses of the past. Historical overgrazing from a combination of cattle, sheep, and goats, and a wildfire which consumed over 1,500 acres resulted in severe habitat degradation. Today, cattle are lightly stocked and rotated in a grazing system, which includes a six month grazing deferment. For the past 17 years, Little Paint Creek Ranch has provided multiple outreach opportunities for youth, including the Operation Orphan hunting program.

Cross Timbers — Montague County — JA Ranch

The 3,426 acre JA Ranch is owned and operated by James K. (Rooter) Brite and has been in his family since 1929. Like many progressive ranchers, Brite relies on native grass production for livestock and habitat for wildlife. He also has reserved wild spaces on the property for wildlife that are off-limits to people and cattle. There is an abundant water supply throughout the ranch with several large lakes and many small ponds that provide water for livestock and wildlife in each pasture. Consequently, numerous waterfowl species are present during the winter months. Prescribed grazing, prescribed burning, riparian buffers, pipeline installation and brush control are some of the land management practices used on the ranch. Stocking rates are adjusted to the conditions of the rangeland to maintain good grass cover and vegetation on the landscape. Old fields that were once used to grow cotton have been replanted to mixes of native grasses. Several fields are planted each year to winter wheat, cereal rye and ryegrass as forage for livestock, white-tailed deer and turkey.

Cooperative — Lavaca County — Lavaca County Wildlife Management Association

The Lavaca County Wildlife Management Association began in the fall of 1993 when a concerned group of landowners and hunters near the small community of Ezzell got together in a farm shop. Members of the group were concerned by the declining quality of white-tailed bucks harvested in the area, and were interested in what could be done to address the situation. The group operates on the belief that landowners and hunters working together to manage the wildlife, and more importantly their habitats, on and among their properties would yield a greater good than each landowner or group of hunters working only for themselves. Today, 6 different wildlife co-ops (Rocky Creek WMA, Honey Creek WMA, West Sandy Creek WMA, Vienna WMA, South Central Lavaca County WMA, and Sweet Home WMA) comprise the parent organization of Lavaca County Wildlife Management Association, and encompass 169,267 of the 620,736 acres in Lavaca County. The Association through its member co-ops emphasizes strong neighbor relations as the key to cooperative wildlife management, especially on small tracts of land. Sound habitat management continues to be at the forefront of the WMA’s goals. Meetings and field days emphasize principles of habitat management as the foundation for maintaining thriving wildlife populations. Both the status and the quality of the white-tailed deer herd in the county continue to improve, especially with the implementation of the antler restriction regulations. Future emphasis for the co-op is shifting from deer to upland birds, specifically the northern bobwhite and the Rio Grande turkey