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TSSWCB Announces 2023 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 recognize and celebrate individuals that dedicate themselves to the conservation and management of renewable natural resources. These outstanding conservationists will be recognized during an awards luncheon on Tuesday, October 31, 2023, at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas.

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

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

The subject for the 2023 Poster Contest was “One Water.” Isabella Cervantez, representing the West Nueces-Las Moras Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) #236, was chosen as this year’s Junior winner (kindergarten – second grade). Emme Davila, representing Jackson SWCD #336 won the Senior Division (third – sixth grade). Both posters will advance to the National Association of Conservation Districts Poster Contest in December 2023.

"One Water” was also the topic for the 2023 Essay Contest. Blaine Dahl, representing the Hartley SWCD #152, took first place in the Junior Division of the essay contest. Tabor Christanelli, representing the Lower Pease River SWCD #162, placed first in the Senior Division of the essay contest.

Below is a list of the 2023 Conservation Award Winners:

Conservation Farmer – Aaron Reeves, Collin County SWCD #535

Aaron Reeves has been selected as the 2023 Conservation Farmer. Aaron and his wife Stacy own and operate Reeves Family Farm, located north of Lake Lavon near Princeton, Texas. Aaron utilizes about 50 acres for his farming operation, which is Good Agricultural Practices certified, to produce around 25 crops that they incorporate in their farm store and kitchen. The operation functions as a grower, packer, retailer, and shipper. Reeves Family Farm considers itself a regenerative agricultural farm. In a rapidly developing county, large-scale farms are harder to find or emulate, but Aaron has adapted the best practices from the agricultural community to fit his unique scope and scale. His farm store and kitchen have allowed the urban community to see where their food comes from as well as have exposure to the production side of agriculture. Aaron has utilized partnerships with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Collin County SWCD, and other landowners to adapt a rich, productive farming history to a 21st century mosaic. Aaron has welcomed the SWCD and NRCS staff on-site numerous times since becoming a cooperator in 2017, sharing achievements and lessons with conservation professionals and a growing community of fellow cooperators. Aaron had a longstanding interest in cover crops and his Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract helped him finally adopt the practice on the farm. Thus, he opted for a mix of oats and hairy vetch, along with crimson clover and winter pea for additional nitrogen-fixing potential. The EQIP contract also aided Reeves in building a high tunnel for extended growing seasons. Aaron has remained perceptive to potential resource concerns, anticipating and quickly adapting to the demands of his land. He has taken a measured approach to tillage by deploying low-tech farming methods and he strives for a low to no-till system. Reeves Family Farm brings multiple virtues into harmony, making conservation-minded farming both aesthetically and intellectually intriguing to visitors rounding their corner of FM 1377. 

Conservation Rancher – Tretha Caddell, Lamb County SWCD #130

Tretha Caddell was selected as the 2023 Conservation Rancher. Tretha Caddell and her late husband, James, have owned and operated the Yellow House Ranch for almost 40 years. Located in the panhandle, the Yellow House Ranch was named after the Casas Amarillas or Yellow Houses Bluff, a local rock cleft formation. The property was once a part of the iconic XIT Ranch, a ranch that spanned hundreds of miles. In the spring of 1984, James and Tretha purchased 20,000 acres from the Matador Land and Cattle Company and officially began their journey to turn the Yellow House Ranch into the cattle operation that it is today. Since the early 2000s, the family has worked with the Lamb County SWCD and NRCS on improving their current rangeland productivity. In 2018, James Caddell enrolled the ranch into the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Through the CSP the ranch received enhancements that have worked to conserve the rangeland and protect sensitive areas on the ranch, including vulnerable watersheds and live springs. A certified range management consultant was contacted to assist with developing a prescribed grazing management plan, a key part of their CSP contract. This grazing plan includes forage inventory to determine stocking rates, drought mitigation, and plans to optimize forage health and availability for livestock. The grazing plan followed by the Caddell family has allowed for pastures to stay healthy even during tough drought situations. Recently the ranch was re-enrolled in the CSP, combining the past plans with new improvements ensuring the Yellow House Ranch keeps up with ever-changing weather cycles and management strategies. Not only does the Yellow House Ranch manage for healthy productive pastures, they also manage for healthy watersheds and to benefit wildlife. In 2015, the Caddell family worked with the TSSWCB to build a Lesser-Prairie Chicken Initiative Plan. Numerous hours were put in by the SWCD partners to ensure the ranch had a grazing plan in place to benefit the vulnerable population of the Lesser-Prairie Chicken. This plan revealed opportunities for the ranch to not only be a productive cow/calf ranch but to also be wildlife minded as well. The Caddell family has worked hard to keep Yellow House Ranch a productive and conservation-focused ranch. One that will be passed down to future family members to continue the conservation goals started with James and Tretha.

Conservation Teacher – Lynita Foster, Bedias Creek SWCD #428

The winner of the 2023 Conservation Teacher award is Lynita Foster. For Lynita, teaching is not just a job, it is a calling. Lynita has been teaching at Madisonville High School for nearly 30 years and she still exhibits the same passion and enthusiasm for the job today as she did when she first began. When asked about her inspiration for teaching Lynita stated, “I just focus on my students and the potential I see in them.” Seeing her students not just retain the subject matter but witnessing them apply it to their daily lives is what Lynita strives for. Ms. Foster says, “What we teach is not just theory. We don’t just say this is what is in the book. We go out and practice it and apply it.” Her students participate in competitive events which allow them to develop practical skills related to the stewardship of soil, water, and wildlife. These events include Land Judging, Home Site Evaluation, Wildlife, Range Judging, Ag Issues Forum, Chapter Conducting, and many more. Lynita takes her passion for agricultural education beyond the classroom and utilizes her talents to serve on leadership boards and organizations. She is currently the President of the Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas and serves as a board member on the Texas FFA Board of Directors and Texas FFA Foundation Board of Directors. Lynita has previously been awarded Honorary Lone Star and American FFA Degrees. She has been named Teacher of the Year for FFA Area IX and Madisonville High School Teacher of the Year. Ms. Foster is also a Professional Accredited Parliamentarian with the Society of Agricultural Education Parliamentarians. Lynita has made advocacy her way of life through teaching and serving the agricultural community. Her work is solely for the students she teaches; in hopes that she’s making a difference in their lives and that one day they will take on the responsibility of becoming effective agricultural advocates.

Wildlife Conservationist – Gary Gardner, Upper Llanos SWCD #225

Jack “Gary” Gardner, Jr. has been selected as the 2023 Wildlife Conservationist. Gary is a 4th generation rancher and landowner in Kimble County. His family’s ranch was established in the late 1800s and has continuously prospered throughout the years. In 2003, Gary and his wife Judy decided to high fence 3000 acres of their ranch and start a wildlife program. In 2011, they started working with the NRCS to assist them in their conservation efforts. They have participated in several NRCS programs throughout the years to put effective conservation practices on the ground. The Gardners have also implemented Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Plans. These plans offer a way for the landowner to work closely with a biologist to foster and support sound management and stewardship of wildlife and their habitats. The requirements of this program include spotlight deer surveys, helicopter counts, and site visits from biologists. Gary has also been diligent about brush control to improve water yields. He uses controlled burns, spraying, and sheering as methods of brush control. In addition, they have also utilized their goat herd to control brush on the ranch. The success of Gardner Ranch can be attributed to the conservation efforts that the Gardner Family has devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to.

Friend of Conservation – Keep Big Spring Beautiful, Howard SWCD #243

The 2023 Friend of Conservation is Keep Big Spring Beautiful. Founded in 1996, Keep Big Spring Beautiful (KBSB) is a volunteer organization with the mission to protect natural resources through tireless efforts of cleaning, preserving, and replacing natural areas in the city of Big Spring. In a community founded by farmers and ranchers, whose ties to agriculture are still strong, KBSB strives to carry on the legacy of protecting natural resources. Members meet once a month to plan events and discuss how best to educate the residents of the city on being good stewards of the land. The Howard SWCD has provided outreach materials for their recruitment of volunteers. The city of Big Spring was founded on a natural lake which remains popular today. KBSB has held a “Love Our Lake” cleanup day for over 20 years to help protect the lake and its watershed. The event is one of their most successful community events where volunteers clean the shores and surrounding park area. Volunteers have also worked to support other organizations and members of the city by planting beautification projects for the Veterans of Howard County and planting windbreak trees at the city park and golf course. KBSB is a highly respected organization that is appreciated by the residents, local organizations, public and private companies, and Big Spring city officials. In 2022, KBSB was recognized as a Gold Star Affiliate by the Keep Texas Beautiful organization. Gold Star recognition is the highest status of membership recognition any community affiliate can achieve. For 27 years the volunteers of KBSB have sought to clean and protect the natural resources in Big Spring. Through awareness, education, recycling, clean-up, beautification, and long-range planning, the organization is indeed a Friend of Conservation.

Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District – Gillespie County SWCD #220

Cade Bonn - Chairman
Patrick A. Kunz - Vice Chairman
Guenther G. Ottmers, Jr. - Secretary
Neal Eckert - Member
James S. Wahrmund - Member 

The Gillespie County SWCD has been recognized as this year’s Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District. Gillespie County is located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country; an area that is currently in a state of very active growth. New landowners arrive daily to take advantage of the beautiful scenery and natural resources. With the continued urban expansion and fragmentation of large tracts of land, the SWCD feels a strong responsibility to bring a widespread understanding of the need for soil and water conservation to the community. The programs Gillespie County SWCD provides equip ranchers, farmers, landowners, and residents with practical guidance and the knowledge needed to be effective conservationists. The SWCD sponsors a Beef and Range Field Day every spring, which is an informative event for people involved in agriculture. The event provides hands-on demonstrations and informative presentations on various topics related to the latest in agricultural research and development. The SWCD also sponsors an annual essay and poster contest, which is open to students of various ages residing in the district. By sponsoring these contests, the SWCD aims to inform young people about the importance of conserving natural resources and inspire them to become citizens who support the wise use of natural resources in the future. Gillespie County SWCD’s main goals are water quality and quantity, critical area erosion, proper grassland and brush management, prescribed burns to control brush re-growth, and improving wildlife habitats. Within the past fiscal year, the SWCD has planted and seeded 275 acres of pastureland, installed 29,190 feet of cross fence for grazing distribution, installed 27 livestock drinking facilities, completed 1,300 acres of brush control, and applied prescribed burns to 1,000 acres. Those accomplishments could not have been made possible without the directors, staff members, cooperators, and partners of Gillespie County SWCD. These individuals give freely of their time and efforts to make Gillespie County exceptional. The Gillespie County SWCD realizes that strong community pride and working together are the foundation for making great strides in conservation and the preservation of natural resources.

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

"Protecting and Enhancing Natural Resources since 1939."

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