LUFKIN, TX (News Release) - A Lufkin woman has been named the 2014 recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award, the state's highest honor for private land conservation, for her family's ecological transformation of a sizable piece of East Texas land in Nacogdoches County.
This year's award recognizes Virginia H. Winston, owner of the 3,418-acre Winston 8 Ranch, which is located five miles south of Nacogdoches. The ranch is a verdant medley of pine forest, longleaf pine, open range and wetlands providing food and shelter for a resurging population of whitetail deer, quail and Eastern turkeys. But that's not the way it was in the 1970s, when Mrs. Winston and her late husband John acquired the property.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award is conferred each year by Sand County Foundation, a 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 Conservation Award Program is sponsored by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation, DuPont Pioneer, Farm Credit and The Mosaic Company.
"Thankfully for Texas, more and more landowners are quietly yet diligently working to restore their property to benefit a host of habitats and fish and wildlife species," said TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith. "The Winston family has absolutely led by example. Through a substantial commitment of time and effort, they have converted a close-cut tract of land into one of the state's finest examples of exemplary land stewardship. We could not be more proud to recognize them for their important work."
"The nation benefits when private landowners seize opportunities to recover damaged land, as the Winstons have done," said Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation President. "Families like the Winstons show us that the ethic and spirit of Aldo Leopold's writing and work continues."
Mrs. Winston 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 property has an active wildlife habitat improvement program that involves timber management, prescribed burning, invasive species control, and native habitat restoration," noted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jeffrey A. Reid in his nomination of the Winston 8 Ranch. "It is obvious [the Winston family is] planning for the long-term and not just immediate wants and needs."
Reid's nomination listed these accomplishments:
- Restoration of 180 acres of native longleaf pine, thinning 700-plus acres of loblolly pine to promote forest health, and clearing and seeding 93 acres for native grass and forbs, as well as significant efforts to rid the ranch of invasive Chinese tallow trees.
- In 2007-08, the ranch was stocked with 80 Eastern wild turkeys and the owner agreed to suspend turkey hunting on the property until the population expands and is sustainable beyond the boundaries of the ranch. Already, wild turkeys are frequently seen on the property.
- Management of the ranch's deer population has led to the growth of some trophy bucks. Additionally, 45 white-tailed doe were released on the property to diversity the genetics of the deer herd on the ranch. Since the ranch is low-fenced, this also benefits the deer herd on surrounding properties.
- Employing innovative wildlife management techniques, such as creating clear spaces on the ranch to increase usable habitat for wild turkey hens. These openings, in addition to all pipeline and power line openings, have been planted with native grasses.
- Using the ranch for research, educational and life-enrichment purposes. In addition to often providing access to other private landowners, youth groups, physically challenged individuals, the property is routinely used by state and federal agencies as a demonstration area for southern pine beetle hazard reduction, prescribed burning, thinning, as well as longleaf pine restoration and native grass and forb restoration.
- Using prescribed burning to reduce the threat of wildlife.