First Generation Conservationist
story by Jaime Tankersley
As the asphalt road turns to caliche and bends through San Saba County, the scenic view is enough for any traveler to spend more time applying the brake rather than accelerating. Ponds healing from the 2011 drought, grass slowly returning to the pastures, and rain in the forecast causes the driver to roll the windows down and enjoy not so much the destination, but the journey.
Based on her story, I can safely say that was the same journey Pat Maples took when she and her husband made a ranch outside of San Saba, Texas their home in 1993.
“My husband use to travel to central Texas to hunt, and when the time was right we left Plano and retired to the first place we stepped foot on,” Maples recalled.
With advice from a neighbor and an open mind, the Maples’ purchased Angus cattle and looked at leasing the land for wildlife hunting. The same hunter has been on the ranch for 17 years and does much more than just show up with camouflage and ammunition.
When the daylight hours do not lend themselves to hunting, the hunting lessee stacks the hand cut brush on 28 acres at the back of the ranch which is utilized as wildlife protection and a safe-haven for grass seeds to germinate.
“In 2011, we had to sell most of the cattle due to the drought, and I knew I had to do something because that part of the ranch was not grazable,” Maples said.
She had seen work completed on neighboring ranches and new that the land would benefit from some form of brush management, but Maples was unsure of her first land stewardship move and wanted to guarantee is was in the right direction.
That is when she first met USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Rangeland Management Specialist, Mitchell Schroeder.
“Mitchell and the NRCS have always answered my questions and explained all of my available options,” Maples notes.
“If I needed to meet him person to person to explain my issues he was always available and very knowledgeable.”
Even though her husband passed away in 2003, Pat still continues the ranch management herself. After being approved as a Historically Underserved producer, an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract was established to clear the invasive brush and a conservation plan was built that fit Maples scheme of operation.
“The terrain is rocky and the work was going to be tough, so it took a little time for her to find a contractor that would commit to the job,” Schroeder said.
Once contractor Orion Huron was selected, he and his crew started what was going to take several months to complete under the conditions at hand.
Maples could not be happier with the results. As green grass can be clearly seen across the hill side, the steep slope is also home to what her deer hunter says is the best quail hunting around.
Maples is part of the Buffalo Knob Wildlife Association that targets ranches of 250 acres or less and provides suggestions on how to manage that acreage for the maximum benefit to the wildlife under the guidance of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Knowing that she has to play her part to see an improvement in the rangeland and wildlife population, Maples says she will continue to work with NRCS and work through the goals established in her conservation plan.
“My conservation plan is a tool that lets me see where I need to go and how I can get there in reference to my place,” Maples said, “I have plans to install a trough and pipeline in the future. I will rely on the technical assistance of the NRCS to help me make those calls.”
Her first job out of college was at a paper in Dallas, and in her 15 years she became attached to not only the people but what the paper brought to its audience.
“You have to remain active in life, which is why I started The Little Paper and use that weekly publication to bring a little entertainment and humor to the lives of our county’s residents,” Maples notes.
It is a true taste of a small Texas town journalism and a collaborative effort of Maples and her niece that provides movie and book reviews.
Over 550 copies are distributed to Llano, Lometa, San Saba, and as of recently she has established an audience in Farmington, New Mexico.
“It is my way of providing a service to my community,” Maples notes.
With the luxuries of a bigger city being 45 miles away, there are days that Maples finds herself not leaving the ranch, and she is perfectly content with her rustic home setting.
“I will be fine right where I am at, this is home, and I will take care of it,” Maples smiles.
Hand-cut juniper can be seen across the hill side on Pat Maples ranch near San Saba, Texas.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Rangeland Management Specialist, Mitchell Schroeder (left) helps landowner Pat Maples identify plants in an area recently treated for an invasive brush problem.
This structure, along with rock columns built up and down the county road adjacent to the ranch, are just some of the completed projects on the Maple ranch.
The rock pillars along the road were all hand-stacked by Pat Maples and her late husband, after purchasing the property in 1993.