December 1, 2016
We are thrilled to announce that Texas Land Conservancy is the recipient of Whole Earth Provision Co.'s Community Give Back Program.
Every time you shop at Whole Earth between December 3rd and December 24th please present this barcode at the desk and Whole Earth will donate 5% of the sale to Texas Land Conservancy!
Sometimes all the land needs is time to heal and people to love it. Cheryl Spencer and Nancy Hyde grew up on Lone Oak Ranch in Walker County, hiking through the pine forests and watching wildflowers bloom in the tall grass prairie every spring, especially the blue bells in the summer, and the tiny violets under the pines in the early spring.
Their grandfather, J.W. Oliphint, was a rancher who understood the need for time, patience, and perseverance. “Mr. Will” and “Miss Earle” his wife bought their first 200 acres in 1910, three years after their marriage, and eventually expanded their holdings to over 2,000 acres.
In 2002 Mr. Oliphint’s daughter, Helen Oliphint Spencer, protected 22 acres of the original homestead with Texas Land Conservancy, including a beautiful old East Texas farmhouse, fields, outbuildings, ponds and woods. Her daughters, Cheryl and Nancy, carry on their family’s legacy of good stewardship and listening to the land.
The family has conserved two more tracts of native grass prairie under the Grasslands Reserve Program, including a piece of black land prairie they call the “long grass pasture.” This parcel was heavily farmed for cotton at the turn of the century, and it developed large gaping gullies, a tell-tale sign of over-use. When Mr. Oliphint purchased the land he decided to let the land rest for a while before he began grazing it.
Mr. Oliphint gave an interview to The Houston Post in 1952 in which he noted, “All I knew was that if you left those gullies alone and kept the stock off, grass and weeds would grow. So that’s what I decided to do. Just vacate the gullied pastures for a year”.
Over the next few years native grasses began to fill in the gullies and bring the land back to health. A survey done by the USDA in 1958 listed the land as “Excellent Condition -Range”. In the 1958 interview Mr. Oliphint noted, “These native grasses would be the salvation of our country if we would just let them do what nature meant them to”.
Helen Oliphint Spencer held on to her inheritance portion of the family property. She married A.C. (Carl) Spencer, an agronomist who served as the Executive Director of the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. Cheryl says, “Daddy loved the land and mother loved Daddy, so she didn’t sell our land.”
Cheryl inherited the homeplace when her mother died. She and her husband live at Lone Oak and care for the ranch. Her siblings hold the rest of the land in a family partnership, supporting the stewardship of their heritage.
While the prairie is flourishing, the forests have lost some of their original character. The property was initially forested with long-leaf pine, a beautiful tree that grows perfectly straight with the longest needles of any pine species in the US.
Long-leaf pine forests once covered 90 million acres of land in the south, but by the 1920’s the forests were decimated for lumber and agriculture. Today efforts across the south are reestablishing long-leaf pine to their original habitat.
Cheryl and her family are hoping to reintroduce long-leaf pines in the areas that lost so many trees in the drought of 2011. “Mr. Will” planted a long-leaf in the yard of the home (built in 1939) and it has survived through the years. Cheryl has been collecting the seeds and cones from this tree to use in her reforestation efforts. In the spring of 2017, she plans to buy “plugs” from a nursery in Livingston, Texas to plant, as well.
The next generation is learning how to take care of the land like their grandparents and parents before them. Nancy Hyde currently works for a land trust in the northeast, carrying on her family’s tradition of conservation. Of her time on the ranch Nancy notes, “It’s always good to be able to walk around in the pastures and see Cheryl’s grandchildren enjoying themselves, getting good memories of being there. We like to walk up to the long grass pasture together, watching for birds and deer”.
Thank you to the Spencer Family Partnership for including us in your family’s future stewardship of this beautiful heritage ranch!
Point Reyes National Seashore (Image courtesy of J. Kelly Hoffman)
The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016!
Texas is home to a few of the country's most stunning National Park units, including Big Bend National Park and Big Thicket National Preserve.
This summer, our Outreach Ambassador, Kelly Hoffman, is embarking on a tour of nine National Parks across the country. Kelly is documenting his adventures for us, observing the beauty of our public lands and exploring the relationship between public land conservation and private land protection.
Across the country, privately protected lands, like those protected with Texas Land Conservancy, serve as buffers for our precious National Parks. These private land buffer zones expand habitat for species like butterflies, bears, and migratory birds and keep views within the parks free from development.
Kelly started his adventure at Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is working his way along the coast and back to Texas over the next few weeks. As he makes his way through these National Parks we will be sharing his adventures on Instagram and Facebook. Check out our upcoming Fall newsletter for the full story on Kelly's adventures and our magnificent National Parks.
Grand Canyon National Park (Image courtesy of J. Kelly Hoffman)
This new year brought great news for conservation in Texas! Landowners and the environment will benefit from a federal tax incentive supporting land conservation passed by the U. S. Congress in December 2015 and now signed into law.
The incentive is part of the America Gives More Act, a package of tax incentives to encourage charitable giving. The Act significantly expands the number of private landowners who can fully utilize the tax incentives for permanently protecting important natural, scenic, and historic resources. The new law is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015.
Texas Land Conservancy strongly supported passage of the measure as a member of the Land Trust Alliance that led the campaign for permanence. “The importance of this vote – and this incentive – cannot be overstated,” said Rand Wentworth, the Alliance’s president. “This is the single greatest legislative action in decades to support land conservation. It states, unequivocally, that we as a nation treasure our lands and must conserve their many benefits for all future generations.”
This bill provides private landowners a financial benefit for the public good when giving up development rights in perpetuity through a conservation easement. The conservation incentive first was enacted as a temporary provision in 2006 and is directly responsible for conserving more than 2 million acres of America's natural outdoor heritage. Here in Texas, over 1.6 million acres have been protected by land trusts across the state.
The incentive grants certain tax benefits to landowners who sign a conservation easement. Conservation easements permanently limit uses of the land to protect its conservation values. Lands placed in the conservation easements can continue to be farmed, hunted, or used for other specific purposes. To find out more about conservation easements and our process at Texas Land Conservancy, please click here.
I represent a normally unrepresented class, and that is Nature itself, which cannot speak verbally and has no ability to hire lawyers.
Edward (Ned) Fritz
Our founder, Ned Fritz, has been called the father of Texas wilderness. Mr. Fritz was a consummate conservationist, lending a hand in a variety of different environmental issues around the state, including helping to found: the Texas Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, the Natural Area Preservation Association (our predecessor) and on the national state, the League of Conservation Voters. As a lawyer, Fritz led the fight to preserve Texas wild spaces in courtrooms, the halls of Congress, and in the Texas Legislature.
During Fritz’s long and storied career, he earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University, married his sweetheart Genie and raised four daughters, served as a Navy flight instructor during World War II (he taught George H.W. Bush to fly), worked as an advisor on consumer affairs in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, and ran a successful law practice. On retiring in the 1970s, he went on to change Texas conservation with his trademark fiery grit.
Some of Fritz’s biggest accomplishments in land protection are based in East Texas. He was instrumental in the creation and protection of the Big Thicket National Preserve. Since this preserve was created, we have conserved over 20,000 more acres of private-land buffer area around the park.
Ned Fritz protected ecosystems large and small. The small end of the scale is represented by his fight with the city of Dallas over his yard. He said in an interview, “I let my already questionable lawn go wild and it immediately sprouted a meadow of Dandelions, Blue-Eyed Grass, Flax, Venus’s Looking Glass and myriad other wild flowers.“ His neighbors were less-than-supportive and after a few scuffles, Ned decided to take the issue to court, winning the trial. By the 1990’s Ned’s three-acre lawn was lush with native vegetation, serving as a magnet for birds and wildlife in an otherwise urban area.
Ned believed that citizen participation is at the heart of environmental protection. He noted, “It depends upon the citizens to do this, and only in a democracy can the citizens fully exploit their talents and …the government fully benefit from that utilization of the talents of the individual human beings working together.”
In Ned’s honor, we have established a giving society for the most prominent members of Texas Land Conservancy. This group, the Ned Fritz Society, is leading the way toward a greener future in Texas.
Ned Fritz Society members, donors of $1,000 or more each year, gather annually to celebrate Ned’s legacy and enjoy Texas’ beautiful fall weather. This year we are gathering at the Greenhouse at Driftwood in the Hill Country. We will honor our donors with delicious dinner from the Salt Lick, cocktails made with Tito’s Vodka, and the music of Jacob Jaeger.
We are immensely grateful to all of our donors, big and small, for helping us continue our mission to protect the land we love in Texas for future generations.
Want to join the Ned Fritz Society? Click Here!
Photo courtesy of Jarrod Foster
Peggy Sechrist has been a Certified Educator in the field of Holistic Management® for over 20 years. Peggy and her husband Richard live and work on a ranch that backs up to the Pedernales River. We spoke with Peggy in August to learn about her history living and working in the Hill Country, the science behind soil carbon sequestration and adaptive range management, and her goals for the new Soil for Water initiative in the Hill County.
Texas Land Conservancy: Before we jump in to our discussion of the Soil for Water project and your research, can you tell me a bit about your history living and working in the Hill Country?
Peggy: I’ve been living in the Hill Country since 1984, initially to the Dripping Springs area, and all this time I have been involved in agriculture. I grew up on a farm and I’ve been in the agricultural industry all my life. Shortly after I got to the Hill Country there was a major agricultural crash that was tied to a scandal in the savings and loan industry. The crash caused banks and agricultural institutions to call in long-stnding notes to agriculturalists, meaning lots of people had to pay off substantial debts. Many people were operating under huge loans, and the crash caused many people to have to give up working the land.
I became interested in what was happening with operators during this time, particularly in the holistic management movement. In 1986 I did a bunch of research on my own into sustainable agriculture. Because of this research, and a brief I wrote about holistic management, I began working for the Texas Department of Agriculture. I’ve continued to study and work in sustainable agriculture since the 1980’s.
In 1994 I was teaching a class on this topic and a guy from Fredericksburg came to one of my classes. A few years later we got married and I moved out to a ranch his parents put together in the 1940’s in Gillespie County, right on the banks of the Pedernales River. The property was initially managed in a family partnership that covered over 1,000 acres, but this piece of land has been subsequently broken up. Now we work 220 acres that back up to the Pedernales. The property is bisected by White Oak Creek, meaning we have a lot of beautiful riparian area. We have seen the ups and downs of weather patterns and management on the property, from bare ground in the 1950’s to today. We know about the history.
TLC: What have you learned about resource management and the environment while stewarding your property in the Hill Country?
P: In 2011 we knew mid-year that the drought was exceeding everything on record. Because of my work I’ve enjoyed a rich network of professional range managers across the state and we talked about what was happening. The older ranchers were saying the plant communities were changing in ways they had never seen in their whole lives working in the Hill Country. That triggered a lot of research into the science of soil ecology and the actions we could take as land managers. We could see that what we were doing fell short, so we asked what we could do differently.
We began to find research from different countries, for example Christine Jones from Australia has done a lot of research about the science of the soil food web and soil carbons. She has found that a 1% increase of organic matter in the soil means we can capture 25,000 gallons of rainwater per acre. That information has skyrocketed around the world. USDA is using it, NRCS is using it. This is the science we are using.
I feel that my role is to take this science to landowners and deliver it in a simplified way so that we can make some changes here.
TLC: Tell me a little bit about how your new Soil for Water initiative works, and what your goals are for the project.
P: Soil for Water, which is supported by the Mitchell Foundation, is designed to accomplish two things. First, there is an educational component that provides concrete practices for landowners in the Hill Country to improve soil carbon retention. For more information about these free talks held in the Hill Country, please click here.
Second, we are creating long-term partnerships with 4-6 landowners who will set up monitoring transects on their properties to see how the adaptive range management techniques affect soil carbon retention over the long-term. Right now we have three landowners committed as partners, and we are hoping for two more. We plan to measure the soil changes under traditional grazing management and compare that to properties that are managed using adaptive management and properties that are managed for restoration. Comparisons between these management types will help us better understand the story of soil carbon sequestration in the Hill Country. This project will span over the course of 6 years. We will be collecting landscape data as well as soil data to determine how quick and measurable the changes are.
With those results we will have more fuel for more funding for more trainings, hopefully in other river basins outside of the Pedernales. We will give free management coaching for our participating landowners, and free consulting for the 6 years that they participate in the project. Landowners will learn how to adapt when weather, climate and ecological conditions suddenly change. It is that process of adaptation that we want to be able to teach to landowners.
We have great, experienced professionals coming in to do the trainings, including:
A Natural Resource Specialist and Wildlife Biologist, Steve worked for NRCS for 27 years out of their San Angelo office. His specialties include range plant ecology, grazing management, ranch planning, wildlife habitat and deer herd management, plant identification, riparian management, and watershed management.
Richard Teague, Ph.D.
Range Ecologist, Professor, and Associate Resident Director with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Richard’s work focuses on the effect of management actions on rangeland hydrology, soil carbon and nitrogen, plant productivity, livestock productivity, and economics.
Tim Steffens, Ph.D.
An Assistant Professor and AgriLife Extension Specialist in Rangeland Resource Management, Tim has worked many years with producers on grazing management, prescribed fire, and livestock nutrition.
Walt has spent fifty something years as a working rancher with interests in west Texas and southeast Oklahoma. After almost going broke following the advice of high tech agriculture experts, he spent years developing a biological approach based on planned grazing management.
More information about the speakers can be found on the Soil for Water website.
TLC: Tell me a bit more about the science behind holistic range management.
P: Soil organic matter is the amount of carbon that is held in the soil. So soil organic matter and soil carbon are one and the same. A photosynthetic process occurs through living plants that pull the carbon out of the atmosphere and down into the root system. This process fuels the soil food web function. I am beginning to see and characterize this process as a world beneath our feet that totally determines the quality of the world above. This process determines the quality of air, quality and quantity of water, and the nutritional content of our food. This all depends on the soil.
TLC: How does the science of holistic management help us understand what is happening in the Hill Country?
P: The drought in 2011 in the Hill Country was exacerbated by the fact that we had already lost 50-80 percent of the soil organic matter in the region. Right now we have an opportunity to rebuild the soil organic matter. The opportunity lies in the hands of the landowners – this is an exciting message. When we make management changes to improve the soil organic food web we dramatically increase soil fertility, we dramatically increase the water holding capacity of the soil, and we can dramatically decrease the demand for purchased inputs (so we can make more money).
In what other scenario can you imagine where doing something that dramatically benefits the community also benefits us individually? The landscape benefits ecologically and the community benefits because we are so based on tourism, which is closely linked to our landscape. If we all understand that we live together in the Pedernales river basin, we can collectively improve the ecological function of the river basin. This means more, and longer sustained flows in every creek, stream and river, all coming slowly out of our soil.
TLC: Can you tell me the difference between a watershed and a water basin?
P: There is no physical difference between a watershed and a water basin, the difference lies in the psychological image these terms create. When we use the word watershed it conveys the image of water running of. I want to drive a new image of water soaking into a basin or catchment instead of flowing out of a watershed. Our culture is trained to understand the mechanics of a system as opposed to the dynamic living process of a river system.
June 6, 2015 was National Trails Day, the country’s largest celebration of trails. America’s 200,000 miles of trails allow us access to the natural world for recreation, education, exploration, solitude, inspiration, and much more. Here in Texas, we have thousands of miles of trails to choose from - in urban and backcountry natural areas.
We participated in National Trails Day by hosting a work day and nature hike at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve. OCNP features over 7 miles of hike and bike trails in urban Dallas, a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the metroplex.
National Trails Day is designed to highlight the valuable work thousands of volunteers do each year to take care of America’s trails. We celebrated the tireless efforts of our partners and volunteers on June 6th by showering them with goodies – like breakfast from Whole Foods, snacks from KIND Bars, and a refreshing post-work-day treat from PopStar Popsicles. Our friends at Kurgo sent us some dog-friendly swag in honor of National Trails Day, including water bowls, dog-friendly first-aid kits, and a rocking Kurgo doggie-backpack!
During the day we had help from many of our partners at OCNP, including the Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association (DORBA) and the North Texas Master Naturalists. DORBA has been in charge of trail maintenance at OCNP for many years, and they helped with a lot of the trail maintenance that was conducted on June 6th: clearing branches, moving rocks, and making sure the bike paths were safe and accessible. With all the rain we had recently, a lot of work was needed!
We recently formed a new partnership with the North Texas Master Naturalists group, who have been excellent advocates for OCNP in their neighborhood. The Master Naturalists helped to remove invasive species (particularly privet) at OCNP. Working with special tools that can take out the root systems, they attacked a lot of the problematic plants at the preserve. This was the first time TLC and the North Texas Master Naturalists have worked together on a major project at OCNP.
By working together, we can accomplish so much more than we could alone. Our collaborations with local businesses and community partners are essential tools to help us accomplish our mission: to protect the land you love all over Texas. As our network grows and as we build relationships with businesses, non-profits, and community groups - along with ranchers, farmers, and urbanites - we are expanding our ability to conserve Texans' land and water resources.
It takes a community to bring back a prairie.
Kachina Prairie in Ellis County contains 30 of only 1,000 acres of Blackland Prairie left in Texas.
With help from our partners, including the City of Ennis, the Ennis Garden Club, the Indian Trails Chapter of Master Naturalists, the Ellis County Nature Society, Native American Seed, and Ennis High School, TLC has been protecting and restoring this property since 1985.
Over the years, Kachina prairie had been overrun by shrubs and woody species, which out-compete many of the native prairie grasses and plants. Recently, with help from our partners, Kachina has been restored as a functional prairie. We have been conducting burns on the prairie since 1992 with help from the City and our other partners. The City of Ennis pays expenses and helps with mowing, annual burns, keeping fire department vehicles available and contributing some labor.
Along with the burns, the Indian Trail Chapter of Master Naturalists has been working closely with the Ennis Garden Club and TLC to reduce the amount of woody species and shrubs through manual and herbicide removal. As you can see in the images below, the cover of the prairie has circled through mostly grasslands (2005) to heavily wooded (2012) and back to more open grasses (2014). For this effort, the Ennis Garden Club has provided funding, the City of Ennis has mowed the open patches, TLC has provided herbicide, the local high school has created benches in their wood shop, and the Indian Trail Chapter of Master Naturalists have done much of the manual labor of removing invasive and woody species.
| Kachina Prairie 2005
|| Kachina Prairie 2008
|| Kachina Prairie 2012
|| Kachina Prairie 2014
In 2015, for the first time in many years, Kachina Prairie was included in the annual Ennis Blue Bonnet Trails festival hosted by the city. On April 18th, with help from the Indian Trail Master Naturalists and the Ennis Garden Club, Daniel Dietz led a naturalist hike around the prairie as part of the festival. Hikers learned about the diversity of species on the prairie, the partnerships that have made restoration work, and our ongoing efforts to make sure this piece of remnant prairie is not only protected, but restored to its former glory.