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NRCS Employees Help Landowners Realize Vision for their Land

story by Melissa Blair

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has hired two rangeland management specialists, Antonio "Tony" Resendez and Sam Schiwart, to work with landowners as part of the Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI). The initiative will provide $50 million over the next three years for technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to improve water quality, increase water conservation, and enhance wildlife habitat within priority watersheds draining into the Gulf of Mexico.

Resendez will work in Calhoun and Victoria counties, while Schiwart will work in Aransas and Refugio counties to provide conservation assistance to landowners and managers in three sub-watersheds of the San Antonio River and Guadalupe River that feed into the San Antonio Bay. They are Kuy Creek - Guadalupe River, the Guadalupe River - South Guadalupe River, and Hynes Bay - San Antonio Bay which include the counties of Refugio, Calhoun, Victoria, and Aransas.

"My goal is to provide the landowner or manager the knowledge and tools to develop a working conservation plan that addresses the resource concern(s) of their land to improve their overall operation," said Resendez. "NRCS' wide array of programs and services can assist landowners with everything from reducing soil erosion, restoring wetlands, clearing brush for rotational cattle grazing, and developing wildlife habitat, to name a few."

Resendez, who grew up on the family ranch in Starr County, started his lifelong career with NRCS as a student trainee in 1977. After graduating from Texas A&I with his animal science degree and a minor in range and natural resources, he worked for NRCS in Abilene, Van Horn, Meridian, Balmorhea, Brady, and Caldwell. He has worked as a Range Conservationist, District Conservationist, and as the Concho Valley Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) coordinator where he helped landowners and elected officials in 13 counties improve the natural resources of the area.

"I like to provide landowners a variety of resources to help them accomplish their goals," said Resendez. "I visit with partner groups to see what work they are doing and share about NRCS efforts, to see how we can all work together to help the land and protect and improve our natural resources."

Schiwart, a native of Robert Lee in Coke County, is no stranger to agriculture and helping others. From being raised around the farming and ranching industry, to assisting landowners across Texas with conservation planning, he is not afraid of hard work or going the extra mile to help out.

"Riding in the producer's pickup or walking with them across their property, you learn what problems they are having with their land, soil, water, air, plants, livestock, and/or wildlife and what their short and long term goals are," said Schiwart. "Then I work with them to develop a plan to help address problem(s), so they are able to get the most out of their land and accomplish their goals while conserving the natural resources they have for future generations to enjoy."

Schiwart has volunteered for NRCS work details that included the emergency signup under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) after the wildfires in 2011, wrote plans and contracts for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the Panhandle, to even filling in as the acting District Conservationist when needed to carry out the day to day operation of the local NRCS office.

"Water quality conservation practices benefit agricultural producers by reducing their operation costs and improving the productivity of their farm or ranch lands," said Schiwart. "Farmers and ranchers are able to voluntarily work with NRCS without a fee to improve their land, production, and ultimately their bottom line by putting conservation on the ground that benefits all of us."

Tony Resendez can be reached at the Port Lavaca NRCS field office, 186 County Road 101, in the Agricultural Building Room 107, or call (361) 552-2969 ext. 3. Sam Schiwart can be reached at the Refugio NRCS field office, 603 E. Empresario, or call (361) 526-2531 ext. 3.

Victoria County rancher, Walter Womack, visits in his truck with NRCS specialist, Tony Resendez. Walter Womack and Tony Resendez access one of the fields and discuss forage available for fuel loads to use prescribed burning as a tool for brush management.

Victoria County rancher, Walter Womack (left), visits in his truck with NRCS specialist, Tony Resendez (right), about his conservation plan map and what practices can be implemented on different pastures with the technical and financial assistance available through the Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI).

Walter Womack (right) and Tony Resendez (left) access one of the fields and discuss forage available for fuel loads to use prescribed burning as a tool for brush management. Landowners sometimes work with NRCS staff up to two years in advance to plan their prescribed burn to ensure all conditions are right before the burn.

Refugio County rancher, Dallas Ford, discusses with NRCS specialist, Sam Schiwart, about how pleased he is with the solar panel pumping system installed. Dallas Ford, owner of Smokey Creek Ranch in Tivoli, worked with NRCS' Gulf of Mexico Initiative to install a water well and pumping plant.

Refugio County rancher, Dallas Ford (left), discusses with NRCS specialist, Sam Schiwart (right), about how pleased he is with the solar panel pumping system installed as part of the Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI) to improve water quality in Hynes Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

Dallas Ford, owner of Smokey Creek Ranch in Tivoli, worked with NRCS' Gulf of Mexico Initiative to install a water well and pumping plant to provide fresh drinking water for his livestock to keep them out of the creek that runs through his family ranch, which empties into Hynes Bay.