Lone Star Land Steward Regional Winners Announced

Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701, steve.lightfoot@tpwd.texas.gov

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AUSTIN, Texas — A legendary South Texas icon, the King Ranch, and a uniquely maintained urban golf course are among the prestigious lineup of recipients of this year’s Lone Star Land Steward Award winners. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Sand County Foundation are recognizing these model land stewards and others, who have shown exemplary efforts to manage their property as ambassadors of conservation.

On May 21 at the Austin Airport Marriott South Hotel in Austin, TPWD will recognize 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 2008 statewide land steward, still to be announced, by the Sand County Foundation.

The 13th 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 Parks and Wildlife Foundation, H. Yturria Land and Cattle Company, Texas Wildlife Association, Lower Colorado River Authority, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas Farm Bureau and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association

"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 fourth 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.

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. Following are summaries of stewardship highlights for each of the ecoregion and category recipients.

Blackland Prairie — Burleson Prairie, Bob and Mickey Burleson, Owners/Operators

For four decades, Bob and Mickey Burleson have worked to undo the damages done to 500 acres of prairie in Bell County from cropping and livestock overgrazing and their efforts have resulted in a model for native tallgrass prairie.

By collecting and planting local ecotype native seed from area hay meadow prairie remnants, removal of invasive plants and use of various management tools, the Burlesons have successfully restored tallgrass prairie. Restoration of native tallgrass prairie has re-created habitat for grassland birds, the most declining group of birds in North America.

Native tallgrass prairie once occupied more than 20 million acres in Texas, now reduced to less than one percent of that and even less in the Blackland Prairie.

Both Bob and Mickey Burleson are former members of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and founding members of the Native Prairies Association of Texas. They co-authored a tallgrass restoration guide, "The New Southern Reconstruction — Home Grown Prairies" and host numerous landowner field days.

Cross Timbers and Prairies — Dearing Ranch, Jake "Bud" Dearing — Owner/Operator

Jake "Bud" Dearing purchased the initial portion of the ranch in the early 1970’s with a Veteran’s Loan, adding to the acreage over the next five years. The goal of this working cow-calf operation is to improve plant diversity to benefit a variety of wildlife.

Techniques used to accomplish this include creating a mosaic of openings in brush stands, seeding openings with mixtures of native grasses and forbs, disking to promote native forb production, and strategic placement of food plots.

The Dearing ranch is working to produce quality white-tailed deer through a TPWD Managed Lands Deer Program. They are also implementing a Water Quality Management Plan as cooperators with the Cross Timbers Soil and Water Conservation District.

Edwards Plateau — Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, J. David and Margaret Bamberger — Owners/Operators

Rangeland improvement, spring restoration, wildlife habitat enhancement, endangered species management, inventory and monitoring of native plants and animals, the first ever "Chiroptorium", and "people ranching" are just a few of the accomplishments of J. David and Margaret Bamberger.

Since 1969, David Bamberger has worked tirelessly to restore "the worst piece of ranchland in Blanco County" to the model of land stewardship that it is today. For many years, the Bambergers have led by example, while communicating their conservation message to children, teachers, other landowners and policy makers. One cannot help but be inspired when listening to him speak about his land and the natural resources so dear to him.

Gulf Prairies and Marshes — Pierce Ranch, Armour Trusts, Owner; Laurance H. Armour, III, Operator

Habitat management on the Pierce Ranch is focused primarily on wetland development and native prairie restoration. As a cooperator with Texas (RICE) and their funding partners U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and TPWD, the ranch has constructed numerous wetland enhancement projects designed to benefit migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

Ranch goals include maintaining quality waterfowl habitat, protecting bottomlands, and increasing native prairie habitat. Recreational opportunity in the form of hunting, birding, and trail riding are offered throughout the year. Innovative methods have been developed to manage and recycle water for rice and crayfish production while enhancing waterfowl habitat.

High Plains — Seven Cross Ranch, L.H. and Nama Webb, Owners/Operators

Comprised of 10,680 acres of native shortgrass and midgrass prairie, the Seven Cross Ranch grazes stocker cattle using a rapid rotation grazing system and provides habitat for a variety of wildlife, including lesser prairie chickens, white-tailed and mule deer, bobwhite and scaled quail, Rio Grande turkeys and black-tailed prairie dogs.

After wildfire burned the entire ranch in March of 2006, the range was rested until October 2007 to allow recovery. The Webbs are currently rebuilding nearly 10 miles of interior fences to enable them to again provide the type of grazing management that produces high quality habitat. Cooperators with TPWD on lesser prairie chicken lek surveys and Texas Tech University on the study of post-wildfire effects, the Webbs are a testimony to stewardship and determination in the face of adversity.

Pineywoods — Mustang Prairie Tree Farm, G. Gibson Family Limited Partnership — Owner Jane Baxter (general partner) — Operator

Timber and wildlife management are key goals for Mustang Prairie Tree Farm, a certified tree farm adhering to principles promoting the conservation of wildlife, water, wood, and recreation.

The property is managed according to a TPWD-approved Wildlife Management Plan with key practices such as prescribed burning, pine thinning, and deer population control. Native prairie has been restored on a portion of the property, improving the habitat for eastern wild turkey and grassland birds.

Mustang Prairie has hosted tours for the Texas Forestry Association and the Trinity County Forest Landowners Association, and has provided educational opportunities for university students and local teachers. In addition, the owners are preserving an important Native American site dating back 5,000 years.

Post Oak Savannah — Baker Ranch, Ronnie Baker, Owner/Operator

The Baker Ranch has been in the cow-calf business for over 65 years. Conservative stocking rates, rotational grazing, prescribed burning, strip disking and selective brush management are some of the practices employed to create diverse wildlife habitat.

The ranch manages for quality white-tailed deer under the Managed Lands Deer Program. They currently maintain a 1:1 buck-to-doe ratio and a density of 15 acres per deer, an exceptional accomplishment for a low-fenced ranch in this region. Baker has been instrumental in the development of the Guadalupe County Wildlife Management Association, hosting field days and organizing deer census counts benefiting association members.

The ranch produces chickens for Tyson Foods and uses chicken litter to promote forb growth on native pastures.

Rolling Plains — Stasney’s Cook Ranch, Jon and Dick Stasney and families, Owners; Johnnie Hudman — Operator

Good grazing management, selective brush control, prescribed burning, quality hunting, nature-based tourism and community outreach are cornerstones of Stasney’s Cook ranch operations. Operating under a wildlife management plan since purchase, the ranch provides quality hunting for white-tailed deer, bobwhite quail, turkeys and waterfowl.

The ranch also hosts birders and wildlife photographers and offers guest quarters constructed as replicas of officers quarters at historic military forts along the Texas Forts Trail.

The ranch has generously hosted youth hunting events for area game wardens, the Texas Youth Hunting Program, and the North Texas Buckskin Brigade, providing opportunities for youth and others to experience and appreciate good land stewardship.

South Texas Plains — High Lonesome Ranch, Charles and Nancy Hundley, Owners/Operators

Charles and Nancy Hundley began their ranch improvement program 10 years ago by reducing the number of cattle and deer and cross-fencing to improve grazing management. Their wildlife program on the High Lonesome Ranch emphasizes management for trophy white-tailed deer, quail and dove in combination with a cow-calf operation.

Important goals include nutritional improvement, genetic development, and water conservation. Since water availability is an important key to wildlife diversity in South Texas, the ranch has focused on capturing rainfall through vegetation and soils management along with construction of tanks, diversion levees, and pipelines.

The ranch offers quality hunting for deer, feral hog, dove, quail and turkey as well as fishing, photography, and educational tours. According to Hundley, wildlife management is like poker — you learn what to keep and what to throw away.

Trans-Pecos — W.R. Stumberg Ranch, Marshall B. Miller, Jr. & Mary Elsie Newton, Owners/Operators

The Stumberg Ranch has been in the family since the 1920’s. Miller and Newton began operating the ranch in 1993. Cattle are grazed at light to moderate rates during favorable rainfall years.

During dry years, grazing is reduced by 70 percent, and cattle are removed completely during prolonged drought. Since 2002, the ranch has implemented about 10,000 acres of brush management to control tarbush, creosote, mesquite and juniper.

Water availability has increased through rehabilitation of old wells and earthen tanks and the addition of 30 water troughs and 3 miles of water line. Managing for mature mule deer is a ranch goal. Achievements include increased mule deer weights and a doubling of the population since 2002.

Wildlife Management Association — Wildlife Habitat Federation, Bob Moore, John Webb, Jim Willis — Exec. Committee

The Wildlife Habitat Federation (WHF) was formed in 2004 to assist landowners in restoring and conserving wildlife in South Central Texas. Specific objectives are: 1) to restore and enhance contiguous tracts and corridors of native habitat in the lower Colorado/San Bernard River Basins and adjacent areas, and 2) to assist landowners and others in optimizing productive use of resources while significantly enhancing habitat.

WHF recently received a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The funds will be used to assist landowners with native grass management and marketing. WHF members are leading the way in restoring native grasses and showing landowners the economic and wildlife values associated with restoration and management of native grasslands.

Corporate/Public — King Ranch, Dave Delaney, Operator

Aldo Leopold in 1947 said, "King Ranch does one of the best jobs of wildlife restoration on the continent, and has unparalleled opportunities for both management and research." Val Lehmann, King Ranch’s first staff wildlife biologist, added "Wild game has perhaps received more attention on the King Ranch than on any other private ownership in North America."

Wildlife habitat management practices on King Ranch date back to the early 1900’s when brush shelters were first constructed for bobwhite quail. Wildlife habitat improvements pioneered by King Ranch include: (1) the installation of windmills at two-mile intervals across all four ranch divisions; (2) the creation of earthen tanks at windmill sites, many of which were fenced to exclude cattle, to provide overflow water to wildlife; (3) half-cutting shrubs to provide shelter for quail; (4) construction of "living fences" of prickly pear cactus in open areas to increase wildlife security cover; and (5) strip disking to cause soil disturbance thereby promoting early successional plant species important for a variety of wildlife.

Special Recognition — Tierra Verde Golf Club, Mark Claburn Site Manager

Tierra Verde Golf Club in Arlington was uniquely designed to maximize the natural areas of the facility while accommodating golfers of all skill levels. Corridors of native vegetation throughout the property provide habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife.

A minimum 20-foot buffer area of native plants, established around water bodies, reduces runoff and provides wildlife cover. Carefully constructed brush piles provide additional cover and dead trees are maintained for cavity nesters.

Nest boxes for wood ducks, purple martins, and bluebirds have been erected throughout the property and basking logs are placed in the ponds for turtles. The irrigation system monitors weather and plant condition to determine daily water requirements. Areas of native grass are mowed to a height of 12 inches every 3 years to simulate grazing.

Turf grasses are maintained with organic fertilizers, and both ground and surface water quality are monitored. The facility conducts environmental tours throughout the year for local schools interested in sustainable development.

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