Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Lone Star Land Steward Awards

By: Justin Bryan

As a wildlife biologist, I’m always interested in properties (ranches, farms, plantations) that utilize management practices such as restoring rangelands, better farming techniques, brush management, improving watersheds, etc. It requires thinking, big planning, financial considerations, and a lot of physical labor. More often than not, the largest challenge is committing to doing things differently from how they’ve always been done.

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Our Hall and Hall Farm and Ranch services team is often engaged to help landowners with such tasks. Bringing in new ideas, with years of experience to support them. Our in-the-field knowledge and staff diversity lend itself well to working with a farm or ranch owner to create a plan of action and see it through. Fortunately, we are able to work with landowners throughout the U.S. and are not geographically challenged. Living in Texas, I try to keep up with the success that all landowners are having when they undertake such endeavors.

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In a state such as Texas that is 97% privately owned, residents rely on private property owners to manage for healthy ecosystems on a diversity of environments. From the piney woods of east Texas to the deserts of west Texas and from the coastal riparian areas to the high plains. The habitats on these farms and ranches are important for items such as clean air, minimizing soil erosion, allow water to filter into the aquifers, acting as a buffer for hurricanes and providing a home to a diversity of plant life, insects, endangered species, common wildlife, etc.

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Since 1996, The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has annually awarded a Lone Star Land Steward Award to landowners in each ecoregion of Texas, who go above and beyond in an effort to manage the natural resources on their property. Below are the 2017 award winners with a brief description of each management program.

Blackland Prairie – Brown Ranch, Fayette County

Mark Brown, owner

  • When the Brown family acquired their ranch in 2000, the property had been heavily utilized for hay production, livestock grazing and row crop farming which left the habitat quality in poor condition and nearly 100% covered in exotic grasses.
  • The Browns began restoring their piece of the vanishing Fayette Prairie back to a tall grass community for the benefit of grassland songbirds and pollinator species. Mr. Brown has utilized a number of innovative techniques to control exotic grasses.
  • Mr. Brown has cooperated with a number of different partners to complete multiple GRIP and EQIP grassland restoration projects.
  • Brown is an active member of a number of conservation organizations and sits on the board of the East Navidad Wildlife Management Association and the South Central Texas Prescribed Burn Association.
  • The family frequently hosts field days on the ranch to share what they have learned with their neighbors.

Edwards Plateau – Three Mile Creek Ranch, Gillespie County

Kim Bergman and Pam Mabry Bergman, owners

  • When purchased in 1996, the 685-acre hill country property was covered in dense ashe juniper (cedar) trees. The Bergman’s began asking the advice from natural resource professionals and quickly developed a plan.
  • The Bergmans selectively hand cut cedar on 500 acres and hand seeded the cleared areas with native grasses.
  • The thick grasses that developed due to the juniper clearing have increased groundwater recharge, improved stream flow/water quality in the creek and improved soil health.
  • They utilize all five of Aldo Leopold’s famous tools for habitat management and income production to restore the landscape.
  • The Texas Youth Hunting Program has been utilized to help control white-tailed deer numbers, and wildlife management classes from Tarleton State University come to the ranch several times per year to learn wildlife, watershed and land management techniques.
  • As a confirmation of their long term stewardship goals, the Bergmans donated a 685 acre conservation easement on the ranch to insure the land will remain natural and intact forever.

Cross Timbers & Prairies – Solana Ranch, Bell & Williamson Counties

Michaux Family, owners

  • Property acquired in 1950 by Frank Michaux has been managed by the Michaux family for close to 67 years.
  • Through the years, the ranch has selectively cleared ashe juniper and applied prescribed fire to restore productive grassland habitats and protect valuable springs and water resources.
  • The Solana’s unique hunting operation provides fantastic dove hunting access for many local hunters, which in turn allows the family to derive sustainable income to manage other aspects of ranch operations.
  • The family partnered with The Nature Conservancy to place a conservation easement on 250 acres of important habitat to protect the Salado salamander.
  • The ranch serves as a trap site for TPWD’s statewide turkey and dove banding studies.
  • Through their innovative cattle and hunting operations, they have found a way to hold a special piece of property together in the face of development pressure.

Pineywoods – Arcadia, Shelby County

Greg Grant, owner

  • Greg Grant lives on his great-grandparent’s longtime farm in Arcadia, Texas where he continues to persistently restore parcels of native habitat for the benefit of wildlife and the education of his fellow landowners.
  • From 1953–1993, Grant’s grandfather farmed, produced hay and raised beef cattle and horses on the place. When Greg took ownership, he began to reforest portions of the property and plant some parts in native prairie.
  • Greg’s primary wildlife goal is to create habitat for native cavity-nesting birds, pine savanna birds and a number of pollinator species. His fire-maintained, snag-filled pine forest has attracted seven of the eight species of East Texas woodpeckers plus eastern bluebirds, pine warblers, brown-headed nuthatches and numerous other songbirds.
  • Perhaps closest to his heart is a remnant population of prairie trillium that he discovered growing in his hardwood forest. This rare species was previously unknown in Texas and is now found in only two other locations in East Texas.
  • In addition to restoring his great-grandparent’s 1890’s dogtrot style farmhouse, Grant also cooperated with the Stephen F. Austin State University Center of Regional Heritage Research as the pilot community for their Voices from Small Places project.
  • Over the last 20 years, Greg has hosted hundreds of visitors for educational and recreational tours of the property. He is a shining example of what true land stewardship and rural family heritage looks like on an averaged sized east Texas tract of land.

South Texas – Harris Ranch, Uvalde and Kinney Counties

Mike Harris, owner

John Sewell, manager

  • The Harris Ranch, which has approximately 6.5 miles of the West Nueces River flowing through its boundaries, had been severely overgrazed with resulting poor land and water quality when John Sewell took over management of the property. Cattle were immediately deferred while the ranch began to recover.
  • Sewell worked with NRCS to fence off over 800 acres of riparian habitat along the river in order to allow the area to capture sediment, revegetate, slow down flood water and increase water quality. Recent flood events have proven this work to be extremely valuable, not only for the local wildlife but also for landowners and water users downstream.
  • The ranch has an active brush management program where juniper, mesquite, and prickly pear are controlled.
  • The ranch is an active participant in TPWD’s Managed Lands Deer Program (MLDP) and maintains an active hunting component to ranch operations. Although deer hunting pays most of the bills, turkeys have responded very well to the habitat management on the ranch and have gone from nearly nonexistent populations at the time of Sewell’s arrival to robust and growing numbers today.
  • John Sewell and the Harris Ranch maintain an open door policy to government and university staff for landowner workshops and research projects. They also provide opportunities for kids to learn about the outdoors and hunting through youth hunts with a number of organizations.

Trans-Pecos – El Carmen Land & Conservation Co., LLC, Brewster County

CEMEX USA and J. Austin Ranches, owners

Billy Pat and Bonnie McKinney, managers

  • When CEMEX USA and J. Austin Ranches purchased the property in 2006 the land was suffering from severe erosion and overgrazing by domestic livestock and exotic species. However, they knew that because of the strategic location of the property it was crucial to the long-term health of Trans-Pecos wildlife.
  • A perpetual conservation easement was placed on 9,496 deeded acres adjacent to and south of Black Gap Wildlife Management Area along the Rio Grande.
  • From inception the mission statement of ECLCC has been “To restore the lands and native wildlife of a lower desert ecosystem, and protect vital dispersal corridors for wildlife and birds on a local and transboundary level, with the long-term goal of having the area serve as a demonstration and research property that can eventually be used as a model for lower Chihuahuan Desert Conservation.”
  • The property serves as an important travel corridor for black bear and desert bighorn sheep.
  • Sources of water were scarce when the property was acquired, but today a total of 37 permanent water sources are now available to wildlife on the ranch.
  • The ranch has cooperated with government partners on a number of translocation projects where native wildlife species including mule deer, Gambel’s quail, and Rio Grande Silvery Minnows were reintroduced on the ranch. One such project was the four-year partnership with TPWD to relocate Gambel’s quail to their historic range. To date the birds have done very well dispersing along the Rio Grande corridor and showing good reproduction each year.

Rolling Plains – Wild Wings Ranch, Scurry County

Rod and Mary Hench, owners

  • When Rod and Mary Hench acquired the Wild Wings Ranch it had been severely overgrazed and was covered with prickly pear, mesquite, and red berry juniper.
  • The Henches developed an innovative block management approach across the entire ranch where 25 percent of each acreage block is treated each year according to a color-coded grid. Nearly every acre of the ranch has been treated to control invasive plants and optimize wildlife habitat.
  • They also protect valuable spring systems on the ranch with strategic mechanical brush control. They catch runoff water and prevent erosion by developing small spreader dams seeded with native grasses after construction.
  • They provide for future turkey roost sites by controlling brush in riparian (creek) areas and planting cottonwood trees to improve riparian habitat. Artificial turkey roosts have also been constructed to provide winter roosting habitat.
  • Stocker cattle are utilized during the dormant season to improve coverage and diversity of warm-season grasses and forbs, which are highly valuable for native wildlife.
  • Rod and Mary regularly work with natural resource agencies to host landowner field days on the ranch. They also open their gates to universities for student field training and wildlife research.

Visit to Historic Encampment, Wyoming and Half Diamond Horseshoe Ranch

By: Mike Fraley

This summer my family rode along with me to Encampment, Wyoming on the slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains where the beautiful Half Diamond Horseshoe Ranch is located.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time spent in the Saratoga and Encampment area where we visited Saratoga’s Hot Springs, had several great meals and drove through beautiful country.  Being a family of history buffs, one of the best highlights was discovering the rich history of the town that was once known as “Grand Encampment”.

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This area was first discovered by French-Canadian trappers and traders who held rendezvous in the 1830’s at a place they named “Camp le Grand”.  Tribes of Ute, Shoshone, Crow, Arapaho, Cheyenne and Sioux Indians regularly traveled through and hunted the Sierra Madres.  Later, around the 1840’s, a portion of the Cherokee Trail was used by gold-seekers looking for fortune in California.  Lumbering, the Union Pacific Railroad and cattle ranching began bringing settlers to the town of Encampment in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Then thousand head of cattle were reported in the area by the mid-1880’s, utilizing the Cherokee Trail as they trailed into this part of the Wyoming Territory.

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It was copper discovered in the mountains above this quiet settlement that put Encampment on the map and showed promise that the town had the potential of becoming a western industrial stronghold.  Copper was first discovered by George Doane near Battle Lake in the Sierra Madres in the late 1880’s, and sheepherder Ed Haggarty found a vein in 1897 that created a decade-long boom in the area.  Later the Boston & Wyoming Smelter, Power and Light Company began mining in Encampment and created a 16-mile-long aerial tramway to transport ore from the mountains to the smelter.  This tramway was the longest in the world at the time and was considered an engineering marvel as it carried 840 buckets of ore that held as much as 700 pounds each.  In August of 1908, the Saratoga and Encampment Railway reached Encampment from the main Union Pacific line.  This would have been very advantageous as it was the “Only Line to the Great Wyoming Copper Mining District”; however it came too late as copper prices had taken a drastic hit and a series of fires at the smelter caused many of the reported 2,000 residents of Encampment to pack up and leave.  The boom that the mines brought to the area was large enough to “somewhat damage” the state’s entire economy when things went bust.

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In the decades that have followed the area has been sustained by agriculture, mainly cattle and hay production. The John E. Rouse Beef Improvement Center is run by Colorado State University as a research facility to study and improve genetics in cattle that are raised in high elevations.    Saratoga and Encampment are also known for beautiful guest ranches and excellent fishing along the Platte River.  Logging continues to have a strong presence in Encampment as well.  Two of the town’s sources of pride are the Grand Encampment Museum, which was named by Wyoming Travel and Tourism in 2011 as its “Attraction of the Year”, and the renovated Grand Encampment Opera House which has hosted over one hundred years of melodramas that are still enjoyed at least twice a year in Encampment.

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Discovering hidden treasures like the town of Encampment with its rich history and the beauty of the Sierra Madres is one of the many perks that I enjoy as I look at ranch property from one end of the state to the other.

Impact of Natural Disasters on Texas Farm & Ranch Market

After a natural disaster or catastrophe, such as a hurricane, farm and ranch real estate markets in the impacted area typically pause for a period of time. Tyler Jacobs of Hall and Hall explains on “Texas News and Views” a radio program by Texas Farm Bureau.

Buying a Ranch vs. Resort Life

By: Jim Taylor

This is the classic dilemma for a family looking to make an investment that will double as a place for the family to convene. How often does one hear from members of families that have had family retreats of one kind or another “we loved it” “we went every year” “everyone in the family came”. These are places where memories are made and they often represent the “glue” that holds a family together.

So, do you buy a place in a private residential community/resort or do you buy a family ranch? If you opt for a classy resort like the Yellowstone Club, Aspen or Jackson, the cost is likely to be about the same even though the ranch might have hundreds or thousands of acres for every acre one buys in the resort.

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Put very simply, a resort is a place where one goes to be entertained. A ranch is a venue where one can entertain oneself.  The resort is the easy answer because there is something there for everyone, from a latte to all forms of cultural and social entertainment. In this day and age of people having the ability to be instantly gratified, it is difficult to sell anyone on the concept that there is value in waiting and working for one’s gratification – much less selling the entire family on the concept.

Every successful development has been forced to become family friendly – to serve all the generations. Family offices set up to service the needs of extended families are proliferating and are reported to have over $4 Trillion in investable assets. Family offices are the obvious home for these types of investments and they tend to impose an important discipline on the process of making the resort versus ranch decision.

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The bottom line we would contend is that the resort “investment” choice is hardly an investment. The bulk of any resort property is generally tied up in a structure which tends to either depreciate or require a high level of maintenance. All expenses related to ownership are not business expenses – rather they come out of after tax income. The real difficulty is that during periods when the families’ use of the property is limited, the maintenance goes on.

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A family ranch, on the other hand, is a true investment in itself. The family is buying a piece of land at its lowest use that, quite apart from being loaded with wildlife, is being operated as a cattle ranch. Land of this type is in increasingly short supply and there is growing demand for the high-quality protein it produces. These factors cause it to have a high probability of increasing in value. The fact that it is beautiful and might have a trout stream passing through it is simply an added bonus that allows its owners to derive a lot of pleasure from being on it.

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The benefits for the coming generations of children to appreciate nature and experience the ranching life style is impossible to calculate. And, if there is a period when the family does not use it, a ranch has a productive life of its own. In fact, there is really no comparison between ranch life and resort life. While compelling and stimulating, resort life is not real.

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Mineral Rights as They Relate to Your Property

A basic understanding of mineral rights can be important to evaluating your property.  One common source of confusion when buyers or landowners contemplate value is the concept of the split estate.  “Split estate” refers to the separation of surface and mineral ownership, whereby two or more individuals own separate rights in the same land.  Split estates are quite common throughout the American West, and many landowners do not even realize that their homes, businesses, or ranches are subject to the mineral rights of third parties.  Understanding the relative rights of split estate owners, knowing where mineral ownership may be uncovered, and understanding how to investigate the likelihood of mineral development, can help landowners negotiate risks and properly assess land values.

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Split estates come in several forms.  With regard to private lands, split estates commonly result from a prior owner’s reservation of mineral interests or prior transfer of rights to a third party. Such transfers or reservations occur in deeds, leases, royalty carve-outs, assignments, or other documentation throughout the chain of title.  These can generally be found at the office of the local county clerk and recorder.  While surface ownership may usually be verified by simply looking up tax records or visiting the possessor of the property, determinations of mineral ownership require a much deeper investigation.  It should also be noted that under most state laws the mineral estate is considered dominant over the surface estate, which means that once a mining project or oil and gas operation is properly permitted, the rights of the mineral owner may take precedence over the surface owner’s operations or use of that land.  The rights of private surface owners relative to those of mineral and royalty holders has been a topic of much discussion and litigation over the years.

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Another form of split estate ownership occurs when minerals have been retained by the federal government. Many lands in western states were previously transferred into private ownership through patents.  These patents were issued under congressional acts like the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916.  Some of these historic laws and patents reserved mineral rights to the federal government.  As a result, Stock-Raising Homestead Act lands, for example, are subject to the location of mining claims by third parties.  These lands may also be subject to the possibility of leases if the government grants leasehold rights to third parties. Determining whether your property was patented under the Stock-Raising Homestead Act, or some other law whereby the federal government reserved mineral rights, would be advisable prior to committing substantial investment in surface operations. The Stock-Raising Homestead Act provides specific protections to surface owners, but those who are unaware of these provisions may find themselves at a disadvantage in the event of mineral entry or development.  Master title plats and federal patents can reveal whether the federal government holds mineral rights to your particular piece of property.  These may be obtained from the Bureau of Land Management for review.

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As a general rule, title policies and commitments from title insurance companies do not insure surface owners against possible mineral development.  Some title companies are still willing to run mineral ownership reports which is one way of finding out who owns the mineral estate. However, these reports come with no guarantees and virtually all title companies specifically list mineral ownership and mineral rights as an exclusion to their insurance coverage. Another way to determine mineral title and evaluate ownership risks would be to hire a landman or a title lawyer who can assist with a review of public title records.  Title opinions issued by a law firm are supported by that firm’s malpractice insurance, and landmen often have extensive experience reviewing and interpreting mineral ownership issues in the county records.  Their reports are usually quite comprehensive and dependable.

One way to evaluate your property and understand the possibility of mineral development is to retain the services of a geologist, mining engineer or other mineral resource specialist. These professionals, trained in geologic mapping and mineral identification, can evaluate your land to identify likely mineral deposits beneath the surface and the possibility of future mineral development.

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It is not uncommon, in split estate situations, for both the surface and mineral owner to fully enjoy their property rights without interference from the other.  New technologies and advancements in the mineral extraction industry benefit many who might otherwise be adversely affected.  As just one example, most horizontal drilling, currently taking place in North Dakota, extends up to two miles underground.  The result of this development is that surface lands are rarely disturbed even though petroleum products are being drained from beneath the surface.  Similar types of accommodations are often made by mining companies.  Knowing that these accommodations exist is helpful when a landowner is approached by a developer of the mineral estate.

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It should also be noted that just because lands were once mined or disturbed by mineral operations does not mean those lands are useless.  Strict reclamation and permitting requirements imposed by both state and federal governments require mineral developers to fully restore lands to their original condition.  In some respects, surface owners may also have the opportunity to participate directly in this reclamation process.  Depending on the natural state of the land, and the commodity mined, it is possible to fully mine a valuable deposit and subsequently develop other valuable resources within the mined area.  Some examples where this has occurred include Lake Oswego, Oregon where a former iron mine was transformed into an area of high-value real estate.  Other examples include the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia and the Quarry Amphitheater on the campus of the University of California, at Santa Cruz, both of which were originally limestone quarries.

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In short, most lands throughout the West consist of split estates. Prudent buyers and owners today begin with an assessment of whether there is potential for mineral development in the area of their property. If there is that potential, then one needs to undertake the analysis outlined above to determine mineral ownership and what the impacts might be.  The existence of a mineral deposit beneath your property does not necessarily mean your land cannot be fully enjoyed.  It is important to keep in mind that mineral developers are generally required by law to pay damages, and these can be significant. Also useful roads and water development can be beneficial to ongoing agricultural operations.

By John Childs
Childs Geoscience Inc.
1700 West Koch Street, Bozeman, MT 59715
&
Joshua Cook
Crowley Fleck PLLP
490 N 31st Street, #500
Billings, MT 59101

The Value of Land Leases on Private Property

Leases on private property come in a variety of shapes and forms. These can include but are not limited to agriculture, livestock/grazing, oil & gas pad sites and pipelines, wind turbines, cell towers, power transmission stations and lines and of course hunting and fishing leases. For many landowners, especially new landowners and/or absentee landowners and estate executors the details of lease development, management and administration is not their specialty. In this situation, not only can money be left on the table but security regarding how the property will truly be used/taken care of is skeptical.

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If negotiated and managed correctly, leases can be a valuable source of income and assist in maintaining and/or increasing the value of the property. For example, separating a recreational lease into four distinct leases (deer/turkey, quail, fishing, waterfowl) creates more income than a single all-inclusive lease. Leases should be a win-win, if at all possible but a general lack of knowledge by one party can lead to a continued state of discontent. Poorly negotiated and developed leases can lead to many years of headaches for a landowner and loss of property value.

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Issues can arise at not only the pertinent locations of work but also along the routes traffic utilizes to access those locations. In addition, poor on-site “use” policy and adherence to agreed upon rules by the lessee or contractors often creates tension and lack of appropriate onsite supervision can lead things astray quickly.

A major concern, especially to rangelands is the accidental introduction of non-native vegetative species of forbs, grasses and brush that can be detrimental to the native terrestrial and aquatic sites. The improper reclamation of soils, especially around pad sites and pipelines can greatly decrease the value of those locations; which for pipelines can extend for many miles impacting large amounts of acreage. Likewise overharvesting of game species and rangeland grasses will negatively impact a property while poorly chosen locations for new roads, pad sites, pipelines and powerlines can unfortunately be detrimental to beautiful views, the health of streams/creeks/ponds and cleanliness of the property. Even simple items such as who is responsible for maintaining fences, barns and roads or what happens if a wildfire occurs on the property or the property is sold during the term of the lease all need to be negotiated.

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Fortunately, there are companies such as Hall and Hall that can provide a team with a diverse knowledge base regarding all facets of leases. A knowledgeable team understands how to look beyond the scope of the project itself and understand the bigger picture and how a lease and its expanding footprint may impact the ranch as a whole. A good team also understand how and when to “give and take” during negotiations, what hills are worth fighting for and which ones are not, in order to meet the goals of the property representative.

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