Lone Star Land Steward Regional Award Winners Announced

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AUSTIN – As anyone with a plot of Texas dirt they can call their own will attest, land stewardship doesn’t just happen; it requires effort. Those who can keep their land productive in tough times as well as good are true conservation heroes.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lone Star Land Steward Awards program recognizes those private landowners for excellence in habitat management and wildlife conservation. 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.

This year’s crop of award winners represents broad and sometimes unique conservation goals, from traditional wildlife management alongside livestock operations to next generation conservationists.

On May 17th at the JW Marriott hotel in Austin, award recipients representing ecologically diverse regions of the state will be recognized. Also during the annual banquet, the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award, the highest honor awarded in the program, will also be presented by the Sand County Foundation.

“These landowners and managers come from different backgrounds but what they all have in common is a love for the land and a desire to make it the best functioning system that it can be,” said Justin Dreibelbis, director of TPWD’s Private Lands and Public Hunting program. “The clean air, water, food and fiber that come from these properties is important to all Texans and we are honored to be able to recognize this group of land stewards for their efforts.”

Following is a list of this year’s award recipients, and a summary of their stewardship achievements:

Birdwell and Clark Ranch

This ranch in Clay County has been involved in active cattle operations since the 1930s, but underwent major changes after Deborah Clark and Emry Birdwell took ownership 13 years ago. Using high intensity/low duration grazing, they are able to maximize beef production and improve quail and other wildlife habitat at the same time. The grazing management practices are closely tied to the wildlife resource management goals. This is a deliberate holistic context evidenced at the ranch.

Spicewood Ranch

The primary goal of Christopher and William Harte for this impressive ranch has been restoration of the degraded habitats on the property. The ranch is situated in a high development area near Austin and, despite land development and fragmentation in the vicinity, has evolved after decades as a traditional cattle operation into a showcase for research and management of native plant species and their habitats. The Harte family shares management techniques and strategies with others through guided plant tours, prescribed burn demonstrations, and other best practices.

Couch Mountain

Nelson Roach embodies the tenets of land stewardship through his holistic approach to managing this Camp County property near Daingerfield. He has taken great strides to restore both land and aquatic habitats. Through creekside improvements, Roach is improving instream flows and the quality of water flowing from his property into Lake O’ The Pines Reservoir. He has worked tirelessly to establish quality habitat for wildlife, particularly toward reintroduction of Eastern wild turkey.

Trail Ranch

Recognizing that habitat degradation didn’t occur overnight, and neither does restoration, Justin and Tamara Trail have taken a step-by-step approach to managing their Shackelford County ranch. One of the fundamental objectives for the Trail Ranch is to manage the land and the plant community to benefit from moisture when it occurs and to sustain a healthy habitat even during drought conditions. They have made strides in improving the land for wildlife, particularly bobwhite quail, turkey and deer through brush control, native plant restoration and other best management practices.

Billingsley Ranch

The ultimate resource management goal of this ranch in far West Texas is to promote, restore, and maintain native natural resources and provide ample habitat (food cover and space) for native wildlife species. This goal is accomplished through maintaining the property in good to excellent range condition. Ranch operator Stuart Sasser has been a proponent of pronghorn restoration efforts, and through fencing modifications has effectively defragmented the prairie system on the property for the benefit of antelope.

Alum Creek WMA

The Alum Creek Wildlife Management Association’s original mandate was on the recovery of the federally endangered Houston toad in Bastrop County.  However after wildfire devastated the community, the organization broadened its focus slightly to help WMA members recover their homes, properties and toad habitat. Land management practices implemented on member properties in recent years have contributed to an increase in both quantity and quality of habitat for the Houston toad as well as other native wildlife species that occur in the Lost Pines area of east- central Texas. Using a variety of land management practices, members have helped promote diversity in vegetation with conversion of non-native pasture to native grasses and forbs, diversity in habitat types and successional stages with implementation of prescribed fire, brush control and erosion control, as well as improved water and soil quality through native prairie restoration efforts.

The Lone Star Land Steward Awards program relies on partners and sponsors for its continued success. Major sponsors this year include: Toyota, Apache, Bud Light / Silver Eagle Distributors, Dallas Safari Club, Shield Ranch, Winkler Ranch,  Lower Colorado River Authority Creekside Conservation Program & Colorado River Land Trust, Partners for Fish & Wildlife – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ruth Bowman Russell, and Wexford Ranches. For more information about program sponsorship opportunities and a complete list of sponsors, visit  https://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/private/lone_star_land_steward/sponsorship/.