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TPWD News Release — May 31, 2004

South Texas Rancher Named Top Land Steward of 2004

AUSTIN, Texas — Rene R. Barrientos took an old, worn out 8,000-acre ranch along the Nueces River in LaSalle County that was suffering from overgrazing and extensive farming and in less than 10 years converted it into a conservation showplace. For his efforts on the La Golondrina Ranch, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department named Barrientos the state’s top Lone Star Land Steward for 2004.

The award was announced at a May 26 reception recognizing Barrientos and 11 other owners and managers of ranches and other properties for their innovative and ecologically sound management of wild habitats.

Now in its ninth year, the Lone Star Land Steward Awards recognize private landowners’ ability to integrate traditional land uses that produce meat, agricultural crops and outdoor recreation opportunities with habitat management and wildlife conservation, natural resource education of youth and outreach to other groups, and partnerships with natural resource agencies.

"I think recognition of the ranch, not necessarily the individual, bears testament to Parks and Wildlife, especially their technical guidance program, which assists landowners," said Barrientos. "It’s not Parks and Wildlife that sets the goals, but they work with the landowners to set objectives in designing a plan that’s not species-specific, but it helps everything in improving the habitat."

Barrientos said he sees himself as a student of land stewardship and takes his responsibility for the land seriously. "It’s not a hobby, it’s a lifelong interest and something I really wanted to learn," he said.

When Barrientos purchased the property in 1995, it was described by some longtime LaSalle County residents as "an old worn out ranch" comprised of about 1,800 acres of extensively farmed cultivated lands and about 6,200 acres of heavily overgrazed rangeland. The previous owners relied almost exclusively on water from the Nueces River to support the ranching and farming operations.

Since 1996, Barrientos has worked with TPWD technical guidance biologists to implement a wildlife management plan on the ranch that meets his goals as a landowner, while providing quality habitat for wildlife.

By removing cattle initially to allow the vegetation to recover and constructing an extensive network of cross fences, Barrientos is now able to support a cattle operation with a deferred rotational grazing system that does not degrade the habitat.

He also made improvements to the primary water well on the property, drilled a second well and constructed more than three dozen stock tanks and wildlife watering sites fed by more than 20 miles of PVC pipe. Now, animals aren’t forced to concentrate around a select few water sources.

"Nothing has to travel more than a quarter mile for water," Barrientos noted. "We don’t necessarily want more animals, we just want to improve the quality of the habitat for the animals. We amazingly see mountain lions; we have native white-tailed deer, lots of bobcat, all forms of game birds, coyotes and badgers."

Among the other habitat management regimes Barrientos has incorporated include: prescribed burns covering between 1,800 and 2,500 acres annually, allowing about 1,100 acres of cultivated land to re-vegetate with perennial grasses and forbs, and enrolling about nine miles of the Nueces River bottom into the Riparian Buffer Initiative of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Continuous Conservation Reserve Program to protect this unique habitat.

Barrientos has also been actively involved in wildlife management practices on the ranch. He is a member of TPWD’s White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee and his white-tailed deer management efforts have netted more than two dozen bucks whose antler dimensions would qualify for TPWD’s Big Game Awards Program and two taken last season that meet Boone & Crockett Club minimum scores.

By declaring the ranch a life estate, he has ensured that this property will not be subdivided or fragmented in anyway by future generations, and sets as a priority the preservation, conservation, and management of quality wildlife habitat.

Other recipients of this year’s Lone Star Land Steward Awards for outstanding land practices in their region include:

Two additional properties were recognized in special categories for their achievements:

The Natural Resources Foundation of Texas, LCRA, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Farm Bureau and the following banks help support the Lone Star Land Steward Awards through financial sponsorships: Farm Credit Bank of Texas, Capital Farm Credit, Heritage Land Bank, Southwest Texas Land Bank, AgriLand Farm FCS, Texas AgFinance, AgTexas FCS, Great Plains Ag Credit, and Ag Credit of South Texas.