At a time when Texas wild places face threats such as land ownership fragmentation and non-native invasive grasses, Laborcitas Creek Ranch shines as a beacon, bucking the trends by adding acreage under conservation and diligently restoring native habitat to benefit diverse wildlife, from game animals to waterfowl and more.
These are reasons why, on May 17, Laborcitas Creek Ranch received $10,000 along with a Leopold Conservation Award crystal at the 23rd Lone Star Land Steward Awards dinner in Austin. This award is conferred each year by Sand County Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to private land conservation, in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In Texas, the award is sponsored by the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation.
In 1990, current owners Berdon and Rolanette Lawrence began their loving relationship with this ranch in Brooks County, four miles west of Falfurrias. After a decade of leasing the property they purchased and renamed it in 2001. Today the ranch includes 16,000 acres of mostly classic brush country but also 40 acres of valuable wetlands.
Like other Leopold winners before them, the ranch demonstrates how wildlife, water and land conservation can go hand in hand with traditional ranching activities like cattle production. Grazing control has been a key management strategy from the beginning. By allowing native grasses to recover, they not only improved water quantity and quality, but this also provides critical nesting habitat for bobwhite quail and Rio Grande turkey and protects white-tailed deer fawns with cover from predators.
What we enjoy here most of all is supporting the wildlife,” said Berdon Lawrence. “When we first came down here, this property had been overgrazed, and there weren’t many quail or deer. Now, we really enjoy seeing all the different kinds of wildlife. We’re real proud that we’ve been able to turn this ranch back into a wildlife paradise.”
Prescribed burning in winter is a valuable tool used to promote seed-producing plants, insect habitat, and lush green areas used by many bird species and large mammals. This goes alongside using bulldozers and roller choppers to control dense brush, leaving mottes in places to create quail habitat, and using winter disking, which benefits not only quail but also turkey, mourning and white-winged dove, and many other bird species.
In 2007, the ranch started a new approach to managing pastures that had become densely matted with bunch grasses, using what they call the Quailerator. This modified pasture aerator reduces vegetation density, but leaves enough cover for deer fawns and quail and turkey nesting.
“I love hearing the quail,” said Rolannette Lawrence, “and when they sing to each other it’s like a love song.”
Laborcitas Creek Ranch has also developed 15 wetland ponds for waterfowl throughout the ranch, including transforming some coastal grazing pastures into wetlands to create lush green browse and to attract insects and invertebrates for many types of waterfowl.
“The plan is to better the land,” said Rolanette. “Hopefully, we can make this land a better place for our children and our grandchildren.”
2018 Ecoregion Award Winners
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