By MATT PHINNEY, or 659-8253 June 26, 2005


Nature’s Best Friend

Mary, the ranch dog at the Treadwell Brady Ranch, cools herself in a water tank between two open pastures that once were overgrown with mesquite and cedar. Brian Treadwell, owner and operator of the 7,930-acre ranch straddling Menard and McCulloch counties, received the Lone Star Land Steward Award for his efforts in land and animal conservation. The award is given by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is designed to educate landowners and the public and to encourage participation in habitat conservation.

MCCULLOCH/MENARD COUNTIES - According to conventional wisdom, today's trophy whitetail deer are grown behind high fences and stuffed full of enough protein supplement to choke a prized show cow.

That costs money, and Brian Treadwell said he doesn't have much of it. But he does have some time and a lot of patience.

Instead of quick fixes, he uses a detailed habitat management program that allows his land to get the most of what Mother Nature has to offer.

Treadwell, 35, and his father, John Treadwell, were awarded the Lone Star Land Steward Award for the Edwards Plateau Region last month at a ceremony in Austin. The award recognizes ranchers for exceptional efforts in range and habitat management.

The award-winning ranch encompasses about 8,000 acres in southwest McCulloch County and northeast Menard County.

''We don't feed anything, because we don't have to,'' he said. ''You can run with (Mother Nature), but you can't compete with her. We attract deer because we have a better program. We grow every bit as big of deer as the people that feed or have high fences.''

This is the 10th year the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department handed out the stewardship award, said Linda Campbell, private lands and public hunting program coordinator. Private landowners are crucial in protecting wildlife habitat, she said, because 94 percent of the land in Texas is privately owned.

The award honors those who enhance the habitat and is meant to provide an example that other landowners can follow, she said.

''We want to honor them for their dedication,'' Campbell said. ''They have a tremendous amount of dedication because they have to stick it out for a long time.''

Brian Treadwell graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1992 with an advertising degree. Growing up in Dallas, he spent his summers on a ranch in Fort McKavett that his family has owned more than 100 years.

His first career took him across the country filming hunting television shows. He spent 18 months on the road during which he realized hunting in the Hill Country is some of the best in the country.

Traveling also taught him he wanted to have a place to call home.

He and his father bought the land at the end of 1998, wanting a place to run cattle and market a hunting program. They found the land, which was two ranches at the time, along the San Saba River. The land had been degraded by heavy sheep grazing.

Buying land that seemed overused turned out to be a blessing for the family because it allowed them to repair the land into something they wanted.

The Treadwells' management plan consists of clearing strips of mesquite and cedar trees, rotational grazing and prescribed burning, which is widely considered one of the best and least expensive means of rejuvenating native grasses.

Fire opens the ground and adds nutrients to the soil, Brian Treadwell said. The fire also helps control brush that competes with grass for ground moisture.

When the family took over the ranch, there was so little grass that Brian and John had to walk through the pasture burning any clumps of grass they could find one at a time. Brian now can burn about 400 acres in an hour and a half.

The Treadwells burn around 2,500 acres of land each year, he said. They burn close to 2,000 acres in the winter and the rest in the summer months, he said.

''I think this year is when we really started seeing the improvements,'' he said. ''Maybe I can start playing golf again. It's very rewarding seeing the changes we make on our land - doing something and seeing the results.''

Brian Treadwell is a member of the Menard County Wildlife Co-Op, a group of landowners that got together in 2003 to carry out management recommendations to grow larger whitetail bucks. There are 57 landowners in the group covering 188,691 acres, more than one-third of the county.

Treadwell drove through a pasture last week that had been burned in February, and the land had already been replenished with green grass.

Treadwell also refuses to use herbicide or pesticide to control brush.

''We work at it pretty hard,'' Treadwell said. ''That's our job. The more work we do on habitat will return us more money on our investment and income. By evaluating the land, the amount of grass cover I have lets me know if I have too many cows or not enough cows. If grass is all eaten up, I'm doing something wrong with the cattle. Then I have to adjust accordingly.''

Treadwell has 350 cows.

Habitat management helps Treadwell increase his deer herd with no supplemental feeding. About 300 whitetail deer lived on the two ranches when he bought the land. There are now more than 1,000 deer, he said.

The constant improvements have probably tripled the land's value, Treadwell said. He is also a land broker and owner of Treadwell Ranch & Recreation Investments.

The Treadwells started making changes on the ranch during an extensive drought, said Jerry Kidd, McCulloch County Texas Cooperative Extension Agent. The ranch has gotten some good rain, and the improvements they have made are becoming evident, Kidd said.

''It's quite impressive what they have accomplished since they've been out there and turned around the ecosystem they have,'' Kidd said. ''The proof is really coming out. It's quite impressive when you get into the operations and see what they are trying to get done.''

To Treadwell, it's just part of the job.

''We knew what a ranch could produce and we what we could do with our deer hunting,'' he said. ''The only real question was, how do we manage and improve the ranch?

''... It's quite an honor and culmination of all our efforts. By us focusing on managing the habitat instead of worrying about cow herd and deer herd, we think about what can we do for the ranch, and the cow herd and deer herd work out.'