Written by TPWD
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department honors the conservation contributions of private landowners each year with its Lone Star Land Steward Award. This year, seven winners representing several of the state’s diverse ecological regions will join the distinguished roster of landowners who have received this recognition. Over the past 20 years, nearly 200 landowners across Texas have been lauded for conserving more than 3 million acres of fish and wildlife habitat.
On Wednesday, May 6 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, these seven land stewards will be recognized during the annual banquet, and the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award for 2015 in Texas will also be announced and presented by the Sand County Foundation. Keynoting this year’s event will be Tio Kleberg, a previous Lone Star Land Steward honoree and an advisory board member of Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.
Initiated in 1996 by the TPWD Private Lands Advisory Committee, the Lone Star Land Steward Awards set out to recognize private landowners for excellence in habitat management and wildlife conservation; as well as, to illustrate the important role that landowners play in the conservation of Texas’ natural resources. The program also focuses on encouraging youth education and in the importance of engaging future generations of Texans in responsible habitat management and ecosystem health.
Award recipients characterize the unique cultural and natural heritage of Texas. Following are summaries of stewardship highlights for each of the ecoregion and category recipients.
Edwards Plateau — Carpe Diem Ranch, Menard County
Charlie and Marci Granstaff, owner/operators
In 1997, Charlie and Marci Granstaff took ownership of a portion of the family’s Hill Country ranch, with hopes of restoring historically overgrazed habitat. By implementing various conservation tools, their goal was to bring back a sustainable, healthy and ecologically functional landscape. The Granstaffs suspended grazing for 10 years to help the grasses rebound. Through mechanical brush manipulation, rest and native reseeding, grass coverage has flourished and continues to spread through strategic grazing and prescribed burns. As avid hunters, the Granstaffs are involved in managing deer numbers for sustainable habitat. They are proactive in creating the correct balance of nesting cover for quail, and actively manage water sources for wildlife on the ranch by installing new pipelines, storage facilities and drinking troughs.
Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes — Gore Family Farm, Jackson County
Gore Family, owner/operators
The property purchased by the Gore family in 2007 is being converted from rice and cattle production into extensive wetlands and upland habitat. Restoration involves installation of a system of levees, gates and risers to allow for moist soil management in 11 wetland units. Recently, the Gore family allowed the wetland work done on the property to be used as a matching contribution towards a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant held by Ducks Unlimited. The grant provides funding to other wetland restoration projects through the Texas Prairie Wetland Program. Using prescribed fire, selective herbicide treatment and shredding, the Gores have also been able to gain control of exotic grasses in upland habitat.
Lost Pines — Rancho Zunzun, Bastrop County
Elvis and Roxanne Hernandez, owner/operators
Through an assortment of native habitat restoration practices, Rancho Zunzun in Bastrop County is providing wildlife viewing and bird watching opportunities and enhanced Houston toad protection. Prescribed fire, planting of loblolly pine seedlings and native grass restoration are just a few of the habitat management activities at Rancho Zunzun designed specifically for the benefit of the federally-endangered Houston toad. The ranch is a participant of TPWD’s Landowner Incentive Program, Pastures for Upland Birds programs and serves as a model demonstration site for landowners interested in wildlife management. Rancho Zunzun shows that an expansive property is not necessary to make a big difference.
Post Oaks — Lavaca Rio, Jackson County
Wynne Snoots, Jason DeLorenzo, and Marty Phillips, owners
Brent Friedrichs, manager
Located along the Lavaca River, the ranch is home to a diverse patchwork of coastal prairie, live oak-red bay forest, post oak savannah, bottomland hardwood forest, sloughs, and prairie pothole ponds containing rare plants and animals. The white-tailed deer and bobwhite quail populations have been responding positively to the active prescribed fire and grazing regime, which has also enabled the ranch to conserve and expand the important habitat types found on the ranch. The creation and restoration of wetlands is a high priority for the property with several projects in the works.
Rolling Plains — Mill Iron ranch, Collingsworth County
Don and Al Allred, owner/operators
Comprised of 30,000 acres of native range, the land management at the Mill Iron Ranch balances a working cattle operation with natural and cultural resource conservation. The Allred family maintains a light stocking rate and uses active brush management and prescribed burns to accomplish their conservation goals. Several species of wildlife are benefitting from the grassland and riparian management on the ranch, including bobwhite quail, burrowing owls, prairie dogs, Cassin’s sparrows, meadowlarks, Rio Grande wild turkeys and Texas horned lizards.
South Texas Plains — H. Yturria Land & Cattle Co., Kenedy, Willacy, and Hidalgo Counties
Butler family, owners
Rudy Bazan, manager
Originally founded by Francisco Yturria, the 24,000-acre H. Yturria Land and Cattle Co. has been in the family for 157 years. The Butler family has worked tirelessly to develop the habitat and distribute water for all game and non-game species across the ranch. The Butlers have restored Rio Grande wild turkey populations in the area by trapping and restocking. This effort has proven successful and allowed them to provide birds for translocations to several adjacent landowners.
NGO/Corporation — Neches Refuge, Houston County
Forestar Group, Inc., owner
Stan Cook and Jeff Portwood, managers
The Neches Refuge in Houston County has strived to improve and enhance habitat for all native East Texas wildlife species, while managing for sustainable, healthy, profitable, and aesthetically pleasing forestland. The refuge has planted over 75 acres in longleaf pine with plans for an additional 20 acres of plantings. Numerous water control structures have also been installed to create seasonally-flooded wetlands, including a 42 acre green-tree reservoir. The ranch expects to expand the reservoir to 62 acres and add another project that temporarily floods 19 acres.
The Lone Star Land Steward Awards program relies on partners and sponsors for its continued success. TPWD is partnering with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation to host the awards program with Toyota as the presenting sponsor. Additional sponsors include: Silver Eagle Distributors, Texas Westmoreland Coal Company, Colorado River Land Trust, Lower Colorado River Authority, Earth Day Texas, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Advanced Ecology, Ltd., Terra Stone Land Company, AgWorkers Auto Insurance and AgPro Insurance Agency, Capital Farm Credit, DM Wood Foundation, Dorothy Drummer & Associates, Ducks Unlimited, East Wildlife Foundation, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, Hill Country Alliance, Hoffpauir Auto Group and Outdoor Stores, Legacy Land & Ranches, Llano Springs Ranch, Ltd., National Wild Turkey Federation – Texas State Chapter, Native American Seed, Nueces River Authority, Oncor, Sarco Creek Ranch, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Land Trust Council, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Texas Wildlife Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.