In 1914, R. E. Dickson admonished landowners “Don’t pray for rain if you can’t take care of what you get.”
At the 3rd annual Bennett Trust Resource Stewardship Conference held in Kerrville April 14 and 15, Steve Nelle, Natural Resource Conservation Service (retired), explained to the gathered landowners that land stewardship is the backbone for sustaining land and water in Texas.
“Stewardship is not just a list of practices for a landowner to consider,” Nelle stated. “It is a deep respect and appreciation for the land. It is an understanding that land has character and capability that need to be nourished.”
The Kerrville area receives about thirty inches of rain annually, quite often several inches at a time. During the hard rains, much of the water goes down the creek. Nelle pointed out that landowners want the land to capture as much of the water as possible, and release it later at a more moderate rate.
“We want to do what we can to slow down the water in our riparian areas,” Nelle continued. “When we slow down the water we reduce erosion and trap sediments which help to create or enlarge the flood plain. This leads to better groundwater recharge and a sustained base flow in the creek.”
“The good news is that nature will heal the creek channels if managed properly,” Nelle said. “Vegetation is the key.”
An example of the restorative power of nature was made by Colleen Gardener, who told the story of Selah, the Bamberger Ranch Preserve. Through proper management, water and grass were restored on this property, transforming it from a virtual wasteland to a thriving ecosystem.
“Mr. Bamburger purchased this property because no one else wanted it,” Gardener explained. “There was literally no water on the property at that time. By controlling the junipers and using other management measures, there is now water year-round.”
Water was not the only resource considered during the conference. Robert Lyons, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Specialist in Ecosystem Science and Management gave insights to balancing forage demands made by livestock and wildlife. Roel Lopez, director of the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, explained the effect of our increasing population on the natural resources.
“Between1997 and 2012 the population of Texas increased by 36%,” stated Lopez. “During that time, over a million acres of agriculture lands were lost to development. More than 273,000 of those acres were in the hill country.”
As the number of landowners increases, an understanding of land valuation becomes even more important. Linda Campbell, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (retired), and Scott Fair of the Gillespie County Appraisal District, teamed up to explain the 1-d-1 Open Space land valuation.
“Get the term ‘Ag Exemption’ out of your vocabulary,” Campbell said. “1-d-1 is a tax evaluation, not an exemption.”
According to Section 23.51 of the Property Tax Code, qualified open-space land is “land that is currently devoted principally to agricultural use to the degree of intensity generally accepted in the area and that has been devoted principally to agricultural use or to production of timber or forest products for five of the preceding seven years”
Fair stressed that not all rural land will qualify for the 1-d-1 evaluation, and when land changes hands the qualification does not automatically go with it.
“Just because a piece of land had a 1-d-1 valuation last year does not mean it will have it this year,” Fair stated. “If you purchase a piece of property, you must apply for the valuation.”
Specialists also discussed proper stocking rates, balancing wildlife and livestock, brush control and control of predators, specifically feral hogs.
“Feral hogs are cause extreme damage to the land,” stated Dr. John Tomacek, Assistant Professor and TAMU AgriLife Extension Wildlife Specialist at San Angelo. “The population is growing rapidly. A harvest rate over 60% is needed just to keep numbers balanced.”
Day two of the conference, participants attended one of two concurrent tours of either the Hillingdon Ranch or the Kerr Wildlife Management Area.
The Hillingdon Ranch has been owned same family since 1887, and is an excellent example of resource and legacy management. The fourth and fifth generations of the family now operate the ranch which produces sheep, angora goats and Angus cattle. The Kerr Wildlife Management Area was purchased in 1950.
The next Bennett Trust Stewardship program will be the 2nd Annual Ladies Conference, which will be held Oct 3-4 at the Inn on Barons Creek in Fredericksburg. For more information regarding last year’s Ladies Conference, go to http://bennetttrust.tamu.edu and click on “Past Events” to view the video and photos from last October’s event.