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TSSWCB Announces 2020 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 27, 2020 at Moody Gardens in Galveston.

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 2020 Poster Contest was “Where Would We BEE Without Pollinators?" Carli Burger from Inez and the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) #336, was chosen as this year’s winner. The poster will advance to the National Association of Conservation Districts Poster Contest in December 2020.

"Where Would We BEE Without Pollinators?” was also the topic for the 2020 Essay Contest. Wyatt Terrell, of Menard and the Menard County Soil and Water Conservation District #215, took first place in the Junior Division of the essay contest. Ty Cornelius, of Crosbyton and the Rio Blanco Soil and Water Conservation District #107 won first place in the Senior Division.

Below is a list of the 2020 Conservation Award Winners:

Conservation Farmer – J&K Whatley Farms, San Patricio SWCD #324

J&K Whatley Farms located in Odem, Texas is owned and operated by Jon and Kelly Whatley, along with their two sons Payne and Jackson. The Whatley Family has been farming in the Coastal Bend area since the early 1900’s, making Jon and Kelly the 4th generation of the Whatley family to farm in South Texas. For more than twenty years, the Whatley’s have utilized conservation programs provided by the San Patricio SWCD and the USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service. Jon and Kelly have always been aware of the significance of implementing conservation plans and practices; and have participated in several programs over the years. Through these programs, they have implemented an extensive conservation plan consisting of multiple soil and water conservation practices such as conservation tillage, controlled traffic farming, crop rotation, pest management, terraces, grassed waterways and surface roughening. Through the implementation of these conservation practices there is increased water infiltration, decreased soil erosion and increased yields along with savings in labor and fuel cost. As trends in agriculture continue to change, the Whatley family is always looking to the future and how they can advance their operation with conservation in mind.

Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District – Upper Sabine SWCD #530

Bill Buchanan, Chairman
Mike Hogge, District Director
Carla Martin, District Director
Kenneth D. Thornton, District Director

The Upper Sabine Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) was originally established on June 23, 1941. The purpose of the SWCD is to protect and enhance the natural resources of Hunt County through financial and technical assistance as well as educational support to local citizens and the infrastructure of the county. Upper Sabine SWCD is active in the TSSWCB Flood Control Program through addressing maintenance and repair needs for the 19 flood control structures within the county. The SWCD is passionate about educating landowners and the younger generation, they are proud to host many educational workshops and field days throughout the year. Their goal is to ensure the availability of natural 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.

Friend of Conservation – Kenda Mahaffey, Anderson-Houston SWCD #421

Kenda Mahaffey began work as a District Clerk with the Bedias Creek SWCD in 1991, she then joined Freestone County SWCD in 2009 and finally Anderson-Houston SWCD in 2018 for a total of 29 years of work in soil and water conservation. Over the years, she has been an integral part in facilitating many contests and field days for students to further their knowledge of the importance of conservation. Mahaffey has worked diligently to ensure the success of SWCD programs through working with landowners to put conservation efforts on the ground in Anderson, Freestone, Grimes, Houston, Leon and Madison counties. Mahaffey is an admirable advocate for land stewardship, youth and natural resource education. She has left a legacy of conservation for many generations to follow.

Conservation Rancher – Charlesworth Ranch Company, Big Bend SWCD #227

The Charlesworth Ranch Company lies in the Chihuahuan Desert within Brewster and Presidio Counties near Marathon, Texas. Brent and Leslea Charlesworth along with their two daughters, Colee and Emilee are proud to call the ranch their home. The ranch has been cooperators with the Big Bend SWCD and USDA-NRCS since 2014 putting conservation on the ground. Their main focuses are stocker steers with a few cows and calves as well as hunting. With the average annual rainfall on the ranch ranging from 10-14 inches, conservation practices are a top priority. Extensive conservation planning went into designing the plan that fit the ranch best. The Charlesworth Ranch Company incorporates a variety of conservation practices such as Pronghorn friendly fence, brush management, prescribed burning, livestock water pipeline installation, upland wildlife habitat management and prescribed grazing have all been utilized successfully. The Charlesworth family has done an outstanding job in being dedicated stewards of the land and will continue to set a fine example for others to follow.

Conservation Teacher – Lisa Johnson, Cochran SWCD #149

Lisa Johnson is a teacher at Whiteface ISD in Whiteface, Texas. She began her professional teaching career a little over 30 years ago, managing the swimming pool and teaching kids how to swim. That quickly morphed into acquiring canoes and teaching kids about exercise and outdoor water safety. Later, she took over the Elementary Physical Education Program at Whiteface ISD and developed an Outdoor Education Program for students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. In order for her students to develop a deeper understanding of our natural resources and the importance of conservation, she strives to engage students with experiential learning by getting them outside. Johnson takes her students on three outdoor education field trips every year visiting the National Wildlife Refuge in Muleshoe, Palo Duro Canyon and the Chihuahuan Desert near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Over the course of her 30-year career in education, Lisa has dedicated herself to sharing her passion for land stewardship and conservation with her students and those around her. Lisa is a leader in teaching our future generations the importance of conservation and stewardship.

Wildlife Conservationist – Dr. Michael Baird, Red River County SWCD #423

Dr. Michael Baird is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and works at the Dekalb Animal Hospital. He purchased his first 100 acres of family land located in Red River County in 1997. Through the years he has purchased additional plots as it is become available. Baird and his wife, Melissa now own 650 acres in Red River County and 150 acres in Bowie County. Baird has been a cooperator with Red River County SWCD since 2011. He has utilized a variety of programs to implement conservation practices on their land which are great providers of food, shelter, and habitat for wildlife. Michael is constantly looking for additional ways to improve the land and his own land management skills. His vision is for the land cannot be done in his lifetime, he hopes the future generations of the Baird family will carry on his legacy of land stewardship as well as wildlife preservation. The dedication to conservation and education demonstrated by the Dr. Michael Baird 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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