NRCS Cooperator Receives Texas Chapter Wildlife Society’s Land Stewardship
NRCS Cooperator Receives Texas Chapter Wildlife Societyï¿½s Land Stewardship Award
Story by Melissa Blair
C.W. ï¿½Billï¿½ Hellen received the Texas Chapter Wildlife Societyï¿½s Land Stewardship Award at their annual meeting on February 18 in San Antonio. Hellen has been instrumental in the development, application, and promotion of sound wildlife management principles as the managing partner of the C.W. Hellen Family Ranches in Jim Hogg County, just outside of Hebbronville.
ï¿½When Bill first took over the ranches, his first stop was at the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office to develop a comprehensive conservation plan of the land,ï¿½ said Jim Hogg County District Conservationist Erasmo Montemayor, who nominated Hellen. ï¿½Since then Bill Hellen and his family have gone above and beyond in their environmental stewardship practices to ensure the Hellen Family Ranches are enhancing and protecting the wildlife and natural resources, while surviving the challenges to keep large portions of the original ranches in operation.ï¿½
Hellen is a true testament to his familyï¿½s ranching heritage that started in 1894 when his grandfather, Charles Waugh Hellen Sr., a sickly, one-legged boy of 17 came from Washington D.C. to south Texas.
Today, the Hellen Family Ranches includes part of the original ranch headquarters, La Mota, founded by Billï¿½s grandfather, Charlie, who originally leased 5,000 acres of state school land. The ranches eventually grew to nearly 20,000 acres and included the El Ebanito Ranch, which was founded in 1911.
Hellen has been actively managing his fatherï¿½s part of the familyï¿½s ranches for the last 17 years, while keeping the entire family actively involved in the operation, decision-making and ranch use. He has instilled the sense of pride and heritage as well as respect for the natural resources, including wildlife, with all the family members and hunters on the land.
Hellen knew that with the lack of rain and brushy rangeland the ranch could not continue as a cow/calf operation like his grandfather and father had run.
ï¿½I voluntarily worked with the USDA- NRCS to develop a comprehensive conservation plan that would help us meet the familyï¿½s land management goals of enhancing the wildlife and cattle operation, and leaving the land to future generations in better condition than when we acquired it,ï¿½
Through the conservation planning effort, problems on the ranch were identified, such as the lack of water and forage for cattle and wildlife, and heavy brush that prevented cattle from utilizing the forage. NRCS provided technical and financial assistance for installing the recommended conservation practices.
Hellen also worked with NRCS to develop an intensive wildlife management plan for white-tailed deer herd and bob-white quail, and as a result the population has increased and the quality of the wildlife has improved.
A prescribed grazing system was implemented to divide pastures into smaller units in order to graze the various pastures rotationally by season and forage condition. This allows the preferred grasses time to recover after being grazed by cattle herds.
Concrete water troughs connected to wells by pipelines crisscross the entire ranch, providing water to the cattle. At each one, separate wildlife watering holes are provided exclusively for the use of birds and other wildlife. These "artificial springs" draw a great variety of species depending on the season and time of day. Camouflaged elevated tripods have been placed near these areas and are great locations for photography and observation in the early morning or late afternoon.
ï¿½It costs money to just try stuff so it has to be done right the first time,ï¿½ said Hellen, who credits NRCS with helping him and his family avoid costly mistakes and wasting time. ï¿½NRCS professionals and scientists have educated me, answered questions and provided access to information including technology, wildlife, forage production, water, hydrology, and research -- to help solve our land management problems. Now, by having good cover on the ranch, we can weather drought and have year-round grazing for cattle and wildlife, but still can withstand a year and a half or so of drought by being flexible.ï¿½
Hellenï¿½s leadership, hard work and dedication to the wildlife not only on his family ranches, but in the area are evident. He helped form the Randado Wildlife Management Co-op that encompassed more than 20,000 acres and includes nine neighboring landowners, with each of them managing their wildlife resources to improve the wildlife habitat and enhance the deer and quail population to maximize returns from the land.
Hellen also served as chairman of the Rio Bravo Resource and Conservation Development Council during which time he was instrumental in the development of the ï¿½The Llanos Mesteï¿½os South Texas Heritage Trail,ï¿½ a 32-page all-color trail map and travel guide, focused on developing the nature and heritage tourism potential of South Texas while increasing appreciation among locals and outsiders for its abundant historical and natural assets.
Instead of selling the ranch, Hellen sold the history and heritage of the ranch and South Texas. For seven years, he and his family have offered eco-tourism tours on their ranches for Winter Texas to raise awareness of the importance of agriculture and wildlife to the public. Hellenï¿½s main focus during the tours was to show all the conservation practices his family had installed on the land and the benefits they provided to the resource base and how all those efforts benefitted the entire wildlife population inhabiting the ranch.
Hellen is also protecting threaten and endangered plant species indigenous to the Bordas Escarpment area, helping to minimize the decline of these plant species by allowing research be conducted on the ranch and raising the awareness of their cultural significance.
Billï¿½s father, Charles W. Hellen, Jr., and his mother Billie, passed on the love of the land, rich in family history and heritage to Bill, his sister, Charlotte, and brother, James Christopher ï¿½Chris,ï¿½ who passed away in 2009.
The family operation today also includes Chrisï¿½ son, Charley W. Hellen III, who uses the ranch to raise Mexican Corriente steers and competition-bred bucking bulls for ranch rodeos across Texas and the U.S. for his business, Covenant Rodeo.
Hellen and the family are members of several organizations that have helped them in their endeavors to keep the ranching heritage going, including Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Independent Cattlemenï¿½s Association, Texas Wildlife Association., Texas Farm Bureau, South Texansï¿½ Property Rights Association and Society for Range Management.
ï¿½These organizations have helped our family ranch is by holding meetings and conventions where we get together with others of our thinking and discuss problems and solutions,ï¿½ said Hellen.
ï¿½Erasmo and NRCS have been a valuable asset to us and our ranches by answering questions and providing the technical assistance we needed to accomplish our goals as well as help us locate the programs that could help us install the conservation practices we needed,ï¿½ said Hellen.
Jim Hogg District Conservationist, Erasmo Montemayor (center) worked with Charlotte Hellen and Bill Hellen on improving their rangeland and wildlife habitat that has helped improve cattle and wildlife production on the C.W. Hellen Ranches and helped earn the Texas Chapter Wildlife Societyï¿½s Land Stewardship Award.
Charlotte Hellen and brother, Bill Hellen, hold historic family photos in front of their brother, James Christopher ï¿½Chrisï¿½ Hellenï¿½s bronze artwork on the mantel. Chris passed away in 2009.
Bill Hellen voluntarily worked with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Jim Hogg District Conservationist, Erasmo Montemayor, to develop a comprehensive conservation plan that would help him meet the familyï¿½s land management goals of enhancing the wildlife and cattle operation, and leaving the land to future generations in better condition than when they acquired it.
Concrete water troughs connected to wells by pipelines crisscross the entire ranch, providing water to the cattle. At each one, separate wildlife watering holes are provided exclusively for the use of birds and other wildlife.