AUSTIN, TX – Duval County Ranch is the recipient of the 2019 Texas Leopold Conservation Award®.

The prestigious award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation and management of natural resources by American ranchers, farmers and foresters in 13 states. In Texas, the award is presented by Sand County Foundation in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lone Star Land Steward Awards program.

Duval County Ranch, located near Freer is owned by David Killam, and managed by David Kitner. Killam accepted the crystal award depicting Aldo Leopold, the state’s highest honor for private land conservation, and $10,000 at the 24th Lone Star Steward Awards dinner in Austin, May 16.

About Duval County Ranch

Vision and hard work have transformed a once-abused rangeland into a profitable cattle ranch with a healthy ecosystem and flourishing wildlife populations.

Killam purchased Duval County Ranch in 1993. He implemented wildlife management strategies across its 125,000 acres straddling Duval and Webb counties. It’s an area with less-productive soil, sensitive to drought and overgrazing. To recover from decades of heavy-continuous cattle grazing, the land was given a rest.

Killam hired Kitner as the ranch manager in 2001. Bringing nearly three decades of experience, he instituted a detailed plan for the ranch that has benefited the landscape and wildlife, while maximizing economic returns.

As cattle returned to the ranch and business resumed, the health of the land continued to improve. The herd promoted healthy wildlife habitats and better range conditions by stimulating the ground as they grazed.

A rotational grazing system (with long periods of rest for the pastures) coupled with prescribed burns, mechanical treatments, and targeted chemical applications have turned once-bare, non-productive soils into thriving, diverse native plant communities.

The improved ground cover and a diversity of brush species, has improved wildlife habitat and water infiltration rates. Additional watering locations across the ranch benefit deer populations. To share these successes with others in the industry, the ranch hosts events for the South Texas Grazing Lands Coalition and other groups.

Deer hunting offers another source of ranch revenue. Harvest guidelines emphasize the taking of mature bucks and proper herd management based on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommendations. Detailed harvest data is collected and analyzed, with results presented to hunters at an annual wildlife seminar.

Home to many unique habitats, the Bordas Escarpment transects the ranch. Hundreds of miles south of their normal distribution, fiveminute grass, yellow stonecrop, evergreen sumac, and redberry juniper have been found there.

Native grasses were successfully planted near the pipelines and oilfields that dot the ranch.

The ranch has turned a profit for 18 years, with revenues derived from wildlife and cattle interests. All improvements to habitat and infrastructure were funded from wildlife and cattle income. All management decisions at Duval County Ranch are made with economics in mind, but the health and quality of the range take precedent over short-term economic gains.

It’s for these efforts and more that Duval County Ranch received the Lone Star Land Steward Ecoregion Award (representing the South Texas ecoregion) in 2010.

About the award

“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are at the forefront of a movement by America’s farmers and ranchers to simultaneously achieve economic and environmental success,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer.

Sand County Foundation, the nation’s leading voice for conservation on private land, created the Leopold Conservation Award to inspire American landowners by recognizing exceptional ranchers, farmers and foresters.

In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac; Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage. He wrote it was “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

The Leopold Conservation Award in Texas is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Lee and Ramona Bass, The Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation, Dixon Water Foundation, and McDonald’s.

For more information about the Leopold Conservation Award and Sand County Foundation, visit