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U.S. and International Photographers Pair Up with Ranchers for 2010 Pro-To

U.S. and International Photographers Pair Up with Ranchers for 2010 Pro-Tour of Nature Photography

Landowners Learn How to Prepare Their Operation for Nature Photography

Story by Melissa Blair

It�s no April Fool�s Joke on April 1 with up to $180,000 in prize money on the line for the 20 U.S. and international nature photographers and the 20 Laredo Borderland ranches, selected to compete in the 2010 Pro-Tour of Nature Photography competition that starts tomorrow.
 
The Images for Conservation Fund, a Texas non-profit organization, held their bi-annual matching party on Sat. March 27, for the Laredo Borderlands photography competition that randomly matched 20 professional nature photographers with 20 ranches in Webb and the six surrounding counties of Dimmit, Duval, Jim Hogg, La Salle, Maverick, and Zapata.

�For most of these ranches, it is the first time they have had photographers on their land to capture the beauty and roughness that makes the Borderlands such an excellent photographic oasis,� said John Martin, founder and chairman of ICF and the Pro Tour. �By bringing in some of the world�s top nature photographers and giving them a month to capture their best images of the wildlife, landscapes, plants and flowers on the ranches they are paired with, it allows them the opportunity to convey the value of nature, the importance of habitat conservation and share the beauty and biodiversity of the region through their photographs with the world.�

As part of the ICF Pro Tour kick off held on March 27, a day-long conference, �Nature Photography Symposium: Ranch Nature Photography for Fun and Profit,� was held at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, for landowners who were pre-selected as part of the Pro-Tour and landowners interested in having nature photography as part of their operation. There was also an educational track for amateur and professional photographers to enhance their skills and opportunities in nature photography.

�Nature photography has the unique ability to preserve wildlife habitat permanently by making it profitable,� said Martin, who opened the session discussing ICF�s vision for nature photography and conservation. �Through the photography, landowners learn the value of having diverse habitats, plants and flowers that provide temporary or permanent homes for a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates including insects, arachnids and arthropods on their land. Things that they might normally take for granted.�

Martin reminded landowners that nature photographers and nature watchers are willing to pay top dollar to visit their ranch to photograph and watch these creatures. By the ranches creating this type of opportunity for photographers and nature watchers, it creates a new form of income for the landowner, a new industry in the community, and also new jobs in nature tourism for the local community through hotel taxes, and money spent in restaurants and stores.

Blasita J. Lopez, Acting Director for the Laredo Convention and Visitor�s Bureau (LCVB), discussed the services offered by the department to both landowners and photographers, and specifically those that are tour operators.

�Landowners offer a new tourism product that the LCVB could sell and the photographers would be able to tap the LCVB as a resource to decide which ranch might fit their needs,� said Lopez, who also helped ICF tie in the event as part of the Laredo Birding and Wildlife Festival. �Eventually, the LCVB�s long term goal is to assist in fostering the establishment of a new nature tourism industry to have what they in turn would market permanently as one of the varied attractions and reasons to visit Laredo.�

Since conservation is such an important part of being able to offer the habitat and environment that nature photographers and nature watchers desire, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), whose mission is helping people help the land, was on hand to visit with landowners. NRCS can provide technical assistance without a fee to landowners to help them with conservation planning to optimize their land�s potential and develop the wildlife habitats.

�Many of the ranches involved in the competition, in the past and this year, have worked with NRCS specialists, to develop a voluntary conservation plan based on their land management goals to help them balance their land use and develop habitats for cattle and wildlife,� said Garry Stephens, NRCS wildlife biologist, who spoke to the group of more than 30 landowners. �By working with your local NRCS and soil and water conservation district, they can help you take an assessment of your land in its current state, and then make recommendations based on where you want your land to be in the next five to 10 years.�

Landowners also learned about the programs available to financially assist with implementing the conservation practices recommended by NRCS for improving their land, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP).

�Since Texas is 95 percent privately-owned, the voluntary actions that you take on your land, not only make a difference to you and your family, but also can provide benefits to all Texans,� said Stephens. �These benefits extend well beyond the farm or ranch gate and include clean water and air, and a healthy and productive environment that provides recreational activities, hunting, fishing, and even nature photography.�

For the 20 photographers from as close as Texas to as far away as Holland, France and Canada, they will soon realize the benefits provided by great land stewardship and healthy habitats as they capture thousands of images of the Borderlands region and their native inhabitants, but for the 20 ranch owners who have finely tuned the canvas of their land for many years, they already know the true treasures hidden among the rough terrain and brush country they call home.

Below is the list of the 20 ranches and 20 professional nature photographers competing in the ICF 2010 Pro-Tour of Nature Photography: Laredo Borderlands.

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Laredo Landowners Photographer 2010 Teams (PDF; 31 Kb)

The Violeta Ranch has a long conservation history with NRCS and is one of many conservation ranches participating in the Images for Conservation Pro Tour. (Left to Right) Eddie Garza of Violeta Ranch visits with Cyril Ruoso from France about locations for taking photos on the ranch. Erasmo Montemayor, district conservationist in Hebbronville, visits with H.H. Garza, and Emmanuelle Grundmann, Cyril's assistant, about the ranch's conservation efforts with NRCS.

 

The Violeta Ranch has a long conservation history with NRCS and is one of many conservation ranches participating in the Images for Conservation Pro Tour. (Left to Right) Eddie Garza of Violeta Ranch visits with Cyril Ruoso from France about locations for taking photos on the ranch. Erasmo Montemayor, district conservationist in Hebbronville, visits with H.H. Garza, and Emmanuelle Grundmann, Cyril's assistant, about the ranch's conservation efforts with NRCS.