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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

They hailed from every corner of the state and came dressed for the occasion in their Sunday finery. Within their purview were the state’s deserts, mountains, rivers, grasslands, forests and brush country. As a lot, they were as diverse as the lands that they live on and the wildlife they care for.  Among them were ranchmen and tree farmers, quail enthusiasts and prescribed-fire bugs, nature advocates and extension specialists, water conservationists and watershed managers, philanthropists and property rights advocates. 

To a one, they were also something else. Stewards. Lone Star Land Stewards, in fact.

This year, in an annual ceremony hosted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Private Lands Advisory Committee, we had the privilege of recognizing this exclusive group as Lone Star Land Steward Award winners. It is a longstanding tradition we have carried on since 1996 to help celebrate the best of the best in Texas’ private lands stewardship. And, in a state that is filled with a rich history and heritage of private land management, it was no small feat indeed for them to receive such an honor. 

By way of background, 95 percent of our state’s habitats are proudly owned and managed by private landowners. On their lands, the raindrops fall, the aquifers recharge, and the springs and creeks flow. Their farms, forests, fields and pastures are where the blues and bobwhites, pronghorns and bighorns, deer and dove, waterfowl and wild turkey, songbirds and horned lizards, raptors and roadrunners, migratory birds and monarch butterflies reside and pass through. Within those very same fence lines, many young people pick up their first fishing pole, watch their first covey rise, take aim at their first buck and learn to appreciate the power of a good campfire, a breathtaking sunrise and a moonlit, star-filled night.

In short, they are where you find the wild things and wild places that our citizens so treasure.

The landowners who steward these places work hard to make it so. Each and every day, they practice what Aldo Leopold, the father of the science of wildlife management, aptly called “the land ethic.” These men, women and families are on the front lines of where the prescribed fires are lit, the invasive and exotic plants are fought, the water sources are developed, the livestock are rotated, the forests are thinned, the native plants are restored, the soil is conserved, and the rangelands are improved.  

The Lone Star Land Steward Awards program is our way of saying “thank you” to all the landowners who leave their lands, habitats and wildlife better than they found them. And so we proudly celebrate this year’s Lone Star Land Stewards: Dixon Water Foundation’s Bear Creek Ranch, Sycamore Canyon Ranch, Laborcitas Creek Ranch, Tanksley Land Company, Hillingdon, Laurels and Leslie Ranches, Sky Lewey, and the Winston 8 Ranch, the statewide Leopold Conservation Award winner.

On behalf of all of us at your Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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