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Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board Announces 2018 Conservation Award Winners

TEMPLE—Each year the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) and the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts (ATSWCD) recognize and honor individuals who dedicate themselves to the conservation and management of renewable natural resources. These outstanding conservationists will be recognized during an awards luncheon on Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth.

The Texas Conservation Awards Program began in the late 1970’s to recognize conservationists and the vital role they play in managing Texas’ natural resources. The purpose of the program is to acknowledge, recognize, and honor individuals that dedicate their time and efforts to the conservation of natural resources.

The program provides an opportunity for competition and incentives to expand and improve conservation efforts as well as the wise utilization of renewable natural resources. Categories recognized through the Texas Conservation Awards Program are: Poster Contest and Junior and Senior Essay Contests, Conservation Farmer, Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District, Conservation Rancher, Friend of Conservation, Conservation Teacher and Wildlife Conservationist.

The subject for the 2018 Poster Contest was “Healthy Soils are Full of Life." Emma Willemin from Inez and the Victoria Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), was chosen as this year’s winner.

"Healthy Soils are Full of Life" was also the topic for the 2018 Essay Contest. Trey Johnston, of George West and the Live Oak Soil and Water Conservation District, took first place in the Junior Division of the essay contest. Lindee Miller, of Silverton and the Caprock Soil and Water Conservation District won first place in the Senior Division.

Below is a list of the 2018 Conservation Award Winners:

Conservation Farmer – Randall Bankhead, Nolan County SWCD #245

Randall Bankhead is a fourth-generation farmer that has dedicated himself to innovative and progressive techniques of farming. Through these efforts his 5,000 acres near Champion has remained extremely productive while implementing conservation practices that prevent soil erosion, improve soil health and structure, and conserve water usage. He has been a leader in finding new ways to conserve resources while steadily increasing his yields. Bankhead was the first farmer in Nolan county to install drip irrigation, going on to improve his water conservation by converting side-roll and flood irrigation with pivots as well as the first to change from conventional tillage to minimum-till or no-till farming. He also restructured his farming operation from cotton on cotton to rotating high residue crops of wheat and corn in between cotton crops. He also added multi-specie cover crops to his efforts and hopes to add livestock to graze his cover crops.  As trends continue to change, Bankhead is always looking to future and how he can advance his operation with conservation in mind.

Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District – Terry Soil and Water Conservation District #151

Katie Day, Chairman
Geoffrey Cooper, Vice-Chairman
Kathy Henson, District Director
Glen Martin, District Director
Nicholas Seaton, District Director

Organized in the 1940s, the Terry Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has provided farmers and ranchers of Terry County with technical and financial assistance to encourage the wise and productive use of natural resources. Their goal is to ensure the availability of those resources for future generations so that all Texans' present and future needs can be met in a manner that promotes a clean, healthy environment and strong economic growth. The Terry SWCD is passionate about educating landowners and youth of the importance of protecting and enhancing natural resources. This passion is put into play many times during the year through field days, educational meetings, conferences, community outreach, tree and seed sales as well as promoting the Conservation Awards Program. In 1996, Terry SWCD started the Duane Moss Conservation Scholarship and has provided 34 scholarships to local youth in the amount of $68,000. The District is dedicated to the wise and productive use of natural resources today and for many years to come.

Conservation Rancher – Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co., King SWCD #168

Established in 1883, the well known Pitchfork Ranch has deep historic roots. It currently operates nearly 165,000 contiguous acres in King and Dickens counties with other operations in Knox County as well as Oklahoma. The ranch’s primary livestock herd consists of 4,500 head of cattle and they also run 125 horses. As with many Texas ranches today, wildlife management and recreational hunting is a large aspect of the overall ranch operations. The Pitchfork is no different, offering hunts for a number of species of wildlife, including whitetail deer, mule deer, quail, dove, turkey, geese and wild hogs. In addition to being a Cooperator with the King Soil and Water Conservation District and working with the Guthrie Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the ranch also partners with many other conservation groups. The Pitchfork serves as an anchor ranch with the Quail-Tech Alliance providing a site for research and data collection. Their work with the Quail-Tech Alliance focused on better understanding of the factors that influence native quail populations in an effort to stem the decline of quail in Texas. The Pitchfork Ranch has done an outstanding job of being dedicated stewards of the land and will continue to set a fine example for others to follow.

Friend of Conservation – M.J. Hanna Trust, Hamilton-Coryell SWCD #506

Along the Cowhouse Creek in the Southwestern parts of Coryell County, lies the 1,800 acre Hanna Ranch. In 1946, Joe Hanna purchased the ranch from his father and has dedicated his time with the ranch to conservation. Joe was a conservationist and understood the importance of implementing land management practices that would improve vegetation production, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality. Water conservation and brush management are two important management goals for the Hanna Ranch. The ranch uses a rotational grazing management plan to maintain healthy grassland pastures while also controlling young ashe juniper. Hanna recognized the importance of water conservation and did everything he could to keep every raindrop that fell on his property. Across the ranch there are ponds with water diversion terraces built in all of the major drainage areas as well as small diversion dams to slow water down and increase infiltration. After Hanna passed away he asked that the ranch and his financial portfolio set up a trust to be used for educational purposes. Over the years several landowner workshops, rural appraisal trainings, and other educational events have taken place on the ranch to provide other local landowners the opportunity to see conservation in action. Hanna was an admirable steward of the land that left a legacy of conservation for many generations to follow.

Conservation Teacher – Mary Kniffen, Menard County SWCD #215

Mary Kniffen of Menard County was selected as the 2018 Conservation Teacher, representing Menard County Soil and Water Conservation District #215. Kniffen actively works with local 4-H members and Jr. Master Gardeners to teach them the importance of ethics, leadership, responsibility, conservation, community, and the outdoors. She works with local schools to encourage cross curriculum involving gardening and school subjects such as math and science. In 2005, Kniffen started Jr. Master Gardeners in Menard County. The group went on to win Texas Group of the Year, National Jr. Master Gardeners Service Achievement Award and Small Group of the Year. She was recognized as the Marva Ebeck Jr. Master Gardeners Leader of the Year Award in 2010. Three years ago she added the Morning Glory Seedlings which allows students from kindergarten to third grade to participate in Jr. Master Gardeners. Kniffen continues to be a leader in teaching our future generations the importance of conservation and stewardship.

Wildlife Conservationist – Badwater Ranch, Brazos Valley SWCD #557

In 1995, Russ and Marcia Miller inherited Badwater Ranch which was previously owned by Russ’ grandfather since the 1940’s. After retiring from the telecommunications business, the Millers began a new adventure on the ranch with the primary goal to create natural habitat for native wildlife species. The land had been over-grazed for years and the site of wildlife across the ranch was scarce. Russ and Marcia began their tireless efforts to restore the ranch beginning with a Wildlife Management Plan put together by their Texas Parks & Wildlife Biologist. The Millers sought the assistance of various natural resource agencies such as the Brazos Valley SWCD and NRCS to ensure they incorporated the best management practices available for the land, resources and wildlife. Through these partnerships they cleared brush and reseeded with 28 species native plant mix on over 174 acres. They also have removed excess growth of cedar and other invasive species in riparian areas, this year they restored over 46 acres along the river. As a result of the last 20 years of management, wildlife is abundant with bird surveys showing over 85 different species, whitetail deer as well as an abundance of butterflies and other pollinators. The dedication to conservation demonstrated by Badwater Ranch is widely admired and appreciated.

More information about the Texas Conservation Awards Program is available at:

"Protecting and Enhancing Natural Resources since 1939."

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