Wildlife habitat management is a good thing for wildlife, but hard work can pay off for landowners, too. Though most landowners involved in wildlife management do so for their own satisfaction, it never hurts to be recognized for a job well done. Revitalization efforts on two Texas ranches in two different ecological regions of the state have earned a Houston couple the 2013 Leopold Conservation Award, Texas’s highest honor for private land conservation. Recognized for their stewardship were Jack and Jan Cato, who in 2004 and 2006 received regional Lone Star Land Steward awards for what they have done to restore their two properties – the Buckhollow Ranch in Uvalde and Real counties on the Edwards Plateau and the Stockard-Sirianni Ranch in Frio County. That ranch is located in the South Texas Plains ecoregion.
The Leopold award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is conferred each year by Sand County Foundation, an international non-profit organization devoted to private land conservation, in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) as part of its Lone Star Land Steward Awards program. In Texas, the Leopold award is sponsored by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Fund for the Environment, Silver Eagle Distributors and the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation.
“Winning two regional Land Steward awards and now the Leopold Award is a phenomenal accomplishment, never achieved in Texas, and a true testament to their dedication to land stewardship,” TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith said of the Catos. “The Catos have dedicated an extreme amount of time and personal sacrifice in an effort to reach their wildlife and habitat management goals.”
“Aldo Leopold comprehended the necessity of the private landowner providing and improving habitat. The Catos have done that in spades, and probably, with spades,” said Brent Haglund, PhD, Sand County Foundation president. “We know many ‘tools’ have been used by the Catos to make their land a much more wildlife-rich part of Texas, and we are glad to be part of this partnership recognition.”
The Catos accepted the Leopold crystal award and a check for $10,000 at the annual Lone Star Land Steward Awards dinner in Austin on May 21. The couple purchased their Frio County property 35 years ago; they have owned the Buckhollow Ranch since 1997. “On Buckhollow Ranch, the wildlife management goals are to manage and improve the ranch for wildlife diversity, and to provide optimum wildlife habitat,” retired TPWD biologist Richard B. Taylor pointed out in his nomination of the Catos for the Leopold Award. “The emphasis is on improving the native habitat through proper range and wildlife management, and to maintain healthy, native wildlife populations – with an emphasis on nongame, threatened, and endangered species.”
Goals for the Stockard-Sirianni Ranch, he continued, “are to maintain as healthy an ecosystem as possible, while allowing and maintaining maximum biodiversity through innovative habitat management.” If you build it, they will indeed come.