TPWD to Honor Lone Star Land Stewards

Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701,

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AUSTIN, Texas — The ability to manage land in difficult times, through extended dry periods and economic downturns, is the hallmark of a good land steward. This year’s recipients of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lone Star Land Steward Awards are prime examples.

The Lone Star Land Steward Awards program recognizes 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.

On May 27 at the Austin Airport Marriott South Hotel in Austin, TPWD will recognize land stewards representing private ranches in various ecological regions, plus two additional categories recognizing conservation achievements by a wildlife management association and an urban community park. Also, the Leopold Conservation Award for Texas will be presented to the 2009 statewide land steward, still to be announced, by the Sand County Foundation and TPWD.

TPWD’s supporting partner for the 14th annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards is the Sand County Foundation, with sponsors that include Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, H. Yturria Land and Cattle Company, Texas Wildlife Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lower Colorado River Authority, Texas AgFinance, Texas Farm Bureau and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

"Our objective is to celebrate the stewardship commitment and conservation achievements of private landowners in Texas," said Linda Campbell, TPWD private lands program director. "By recognizing these dedicated people for their contributions to wildlife management and resource conservation, we want to illustrate the important role private landowners play in managing and conserving natural resources that benefit all Texans".

For the fifth year, the Lone Star Land Steward Awards are benefiting from an association with Sand County Foundation, an international non-profit organization devoted to private lands 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 awards 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 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.

Cross Timbers and Prairies — Boydston Ranch, Young County, Donald Boydston owner/operator.

The goal of the Boydston Ranch is to implement good range and wildlife management practices to benefit both livestock and wildlife. The ranch has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to construct a 12-acre lake to benefit waterfowl and other migratory birds. They regularly conduct prescribed burns to manage oak woodlands and savannas and enhance habitat for deer and turkey. Rotational grazing is used to maintain good range condition and improve plant diversity. The ranch has partnered with NRCS to create a 40-acre riparian buffer, control invasive mesquite and plant 130 acres of native grasses. Mr. Boydston is a leader in the community as a member of the Young County Range and Wildlife Association and North Central Texas Prescribed Burn Association

Edwards Plateau — Dove Creek Ranch, Irion/Tom Green Counties, Dove Creek Partnership, Ruth Flournoy general partner.

Since 1985, Dove Creek Ranch has worked with TPWD biologists to implement practices that achieve healthy populations of white-tailed deer, Rio Grande turkey and bobwhite quail. From degraded rangelands with low forage productivity dominated by redberry juniper and mesquite, to good quality range and wildlife habitat with high plant production and diversity, the Flournoys have managed the ranch with the "Leopold" tools of fire, plow, axe, gun and cow. All practices on the ranch consider the maintenance of Dove Creek Springs, a major spring flowing into Dove Creek. The ranch has a long history of being involved in the Irion County 4-H Club, donating funds and auction items to their Hunter’s Appreciation Banquet.

Gulf Prairies and Marshes — Fennessey Ranch, Refugio County, Brien O’Connor Dunn owner/operator.

Fennessey Ranch has been operated by the same family for 171 years. The ranch was one of the first in Texas to embrace nature-based tourism as a growing industry. Nature tourism activities include stargazing parties, wildflower and birding tours in the spring, and fall migration tours for hawks and hummingbirds. The ranch has partnered with several professional photographers to participate in photo contests, capturing first place several times in the Coastal Bend Wildlife Photo Contest. The ranch has worked with Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, TPWD and NRCS to restore wetlands and enhance freshwater marshes.

Pineywoods — Round Bottom Ranch, Bastrop County, Bob Long and family owners/operators.

The goals of Round Bottom Ranch are to restore healthy upland and wetland habitats and to create high quality habitat for the endangered Houston toad, as well as a variety of other game and non-game wildlife, all within the context of a profitable livestock operation. Brush thinning and prescribed fire have been used to reduce the density of understory brush and enhance the growth of native grasses and forbs. Wetland enhancement and fencing around ponds have improved habitat conditions for the Houston Toad and other aquatic species. Since 2002, the ranch has participated in intensive Houston toad monitoring activities conducted by Texas State University. The Long family has made the ranch available to visitors, media, students, and agency staff with interest in Houston Toad conservation and habitat enhancement using prescribed fire.

Post Oak Savannah — Wells Ranch, Gonzales/Guadalupe Counties, Howard and Jeanice Williamson owners/operators.

For more than a century, the Wells Ranch near Leesville has been a family-owned cow-calf operation and received the Family Land Heritage Award. The Williamsons have worked to maintain the natural ecology of the land, rejecting the option of replacing native grassland with coastal bermudagrass and retaining much of the timberland on the property. Using rotational grazing and prescribed fire, they are able to manage a healthy cow-calf operation and a successful chicken production facility. Mr. Williamson has been in the forefront of water conservation issues in the area and has hosted numerous management field days. The ranch has operated under a TPWD management plan for 15 years with the goals of maintaining a healthy deer herd in cooperation with existing ranching practices.

Rolling Plains — Wildcat Mountain Ranch, Coke County, Hollis and Tony Farris owners/operators.

Wildcat Mountain Ranch has been owned and operated by Tony Farris and his brother Hollis for 11 years. Located at the junction of the southern Rolling Plains and the northwestern most edge of the Edwards Plateau, the ranch is home to quality deer and abundant quail. By caring for the land and skillfully implementing conservation practices recommended by resource management professionals, the Farris brothers have transformed a heavily used piece of land into richly diverse, abundant and productive wildlife habitat. The ranch has used brush sculpting of mesquite and juniper with attention to maintaining necessary cover and travel corridors. They have been generous in providing youth opportunities, including hosting Texas Youth Hunting Program youth hunts and hunt master training as well as Boy Scout instruction in youth shooting sports.

South Texas Plains — San Christoval Ranch, Karnes/Live Oak Counties, Dr. Lacy H. Williams, and Lacy H. Williams II and family owners, Mark Walter operator.

In 1997, the Williams family began an intensive habitat management program to improve native habitats for wildlife. Goals included restoring over 200 acres of native grasslands and developing 136 acres of wetlands and ponds for migratory birds. Prescribed burning plays an integral role in maintaining native grasses and enhancing herbaceous diversity on the ranch. Dramatically improved habitat for bobwhite quail has produced 20 or more coveys in a day’s hunt. White-tailed deer are managed to maintain plant diversity and a balanced age structure. The ranch provides leadership to the Brush Country Prescribed Burn Association and supports research in South Texas to further understand the ecology and management of bobwhite quail.

Trans-Pecos — Railway Ranch, Upton/Midland/Crane Counties, Marvin L. Smith and Railway Ranch Inc. owners/operators.

The Railway Ranch encompasses 46,080 acres near Odessa, Texas. The ranch is managed by Stan and Ann Smith and co-owned with his father and mother Marvin and Estee Smith of Midkiff, Texas. Management goals are to restore rangelands and improve wildlife habitat through brush management, water development and planned livestock grazing. Stan and his family have been conducting brush management and water development projects for livestock and wildlife for 32 years. Ranch improvements include treatment of 13,000 acres of creosote and tarbush, 1,600 acres of mesquite, 11 water wells, 22 cement storage tanks and 25 miles of cross fencing. The family has renovated a 100 year old ranch house and opened a bed and breakfast to provide visitors the opportunity to enjoy an abundance of west Texas wildlife.

Wildlife Management Association — Western Navarro Bobwhite Recovery Cooperative, Jimmy Stewart, president.

The goal of the Western Navarro Bobwhite Recovery Cooperative is to create usable space for bobwhites and other grassland birds through a combination of habitat restoration and habitat improvement practices. Practices include restoring native grasses and forbs on previously cultivated land, planting native grass field borders on croplands, range seeding with native grasses, brush management, rotational grazing and prescribed burning. From an initial membership of 12 active landowners representing 15,000 acres, the cooperative has grown to 32 landowners with a cumulative land base of just over 29,000 acres. Grants from Audubon Texas and the Trinity Basin Conservation Foundation have been used to buy seed and equipment to restore grassland habitats. Cooperative partnerships have been the key to achievements thus far.

Corporate/Public — Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, Tarrant County, City of Fort Worth, Parks & Community Service Department, Suzanne Tuttle, Nature Center Manager.

Since the 1970s when active land management practices were implemented on the FWNCR, areas that were once bare ground have become productive. Despite its proximity to a major urban setting, the FWNCR has maintained and enhanced its natural and cultural resources. Prescribed fire is used when and where appropriate, a bison herd is maintained on the property through rotational grazing, and brush control is conducted to control mesquite and sumac. In addition to prairie restoration efforts that includes intensive control of invasive plant species, the FWNCR is involved in a gravel pit reclamation effort. The area has become a field research site for several universities and resource agencies, as well as a training ground for area Master Naturalists. With an extensive hiking trail system, the site provides outdoor recreation opportunities for the public. Its cultural treasures include Civilian Conservation Corps sites from the 1930s and an archaeological find where thousands of artifacts have been recovered.