AUSTIN — Mark and Cheryl Brown have been awarded the state’s highest honor for private land conservation, the Leopold Conservation Award, which will be presented at the Lone Star Land Steward awards banquet on May 25 in Austin. The Brown Ranch, located in Ammansville in Fayette County, was previously awarded the Lone Star Land Steward Blackland Prairie ecoregion award in 2017. Since then, the couple has continued superlative conservation work on tall-grass prairie restoration and community outreach.
The prestigious award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation and natural resource management by American ranchers, farmers and foresters in 22 states. In Texas, the award is presented by the Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust, in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as part of the Lone Star Land Steward Awards program, which is supported by the nonprofit Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation.
“The land ethic is to be a part of the landscape,” said Mark Brown. “Changing that mindset where people want to be a part of the land rather than dominate the land — it just seems like the right thing to do.
It’s also, in a lot of ways, easier.”
Plant surveys have uncovered more than 250 species of native plants on the parcels owned by the Browns. Annual bird surveys on the property have located focal species for conservation efforts — including loggerhead shrike, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, eastern meadowlark and many more — due to their significant population declines over the last half-century.
The diversity of soil types and plant communities is matched by the diversity of outreach events the Browns have helped plan and host over the last few years, including several field days for natural resource professionals and area landowners to participate in grassland restoration, prescribed burning certification and other learning opportunities.
“Their commitment to good stewardship in a fragmented landscape is impressive,” said Tim Siegmund, TPWD Private Lands Program leader. “They took this on as a passion project and that passion has stretched within and beyond their gates. It is a good lesson in stewardship for a rapidly fragmenting state, utilizing tools available to most anyone buying land in the eastern half of Texas. “
LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM
The Leopold Conservation Award Program is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont).
SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION
The Sand County Foundation inspires and empowers a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST
The American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
The mission of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is to manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.