A Career in Conservation, a Lifetime of Learning
story by Jaime Tankersley
In 1957 Benjamin (Ben) Orland Sims, took his seat for the first time as a Concho Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Director, and the same passion that drove him then is still present after 55 years of service - he cares about the land.
Born December 29, 1925 in Ballinger, Sims was raised in Paint Rock where he attended and graduated high school in 1943. In January of 1944 he joined the 15th Air Force and took part in 23 missions. In the 18 months of existence, the 15th Air Force operated principally from the complex of airfields in southern Italy. The division destroyed all gasoline production within its range in southern Europe, knocked out all the major aircraft factories in its sphere, and destroyed 6,282 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground.
Upon returning, Ben enrolled in Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Texas A&M University, in College Station, Texas. After four years, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Husbandry.
"Before I graduated, I thought mesquite was our best plant," Sims recalls.
"We were in the drought of the 1950's and everyone was overgrazed. My dad told me I should just take all those book smarts and get a job with the Soil Conservation Service (SCS)," he says.
Sims was not convinced by his father's proposal to join the SCS, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service; instead, he took one year getting into the ranching business and decades learning about it.
"I took one year to work on a ranch and then I began raising cattle and sheep and farming independently," Sims says.
"I went into A&M with zero true range management knowledge, and when I got home I took a good look at our ranch and I wanted to bring that information back to town and learn from the resources we had locally and use the wisdom of others to improve our operation," he continues.
Sims has been active in the agriculture community since his return from college, but it is more than knowledge that drives him. He wanted to be active and up-to-date within his sector. In 1957, he was elected to the Concho SWCD Board. He served two years as a director for the Texas Association of SWCD's, served for over 43 years on the Federal Land Bank Board, is a lifetime director for the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, and in 1957, joined the Texas Section Society for Range Management (TSSRM).
In just ten short years, Sims had made such a contribution to TSSRM, he was elected as President of the Society and later received the title of Outstanding Contribution to Rangeland Management.
This award is presented to a TSSRM member who is actively engaged in ranching or livestock farming or in the professional fields dealing with range management. Sims was a recognized leader in rangeland management, accepted over a large segment of the State, and an excellent recipient for the honor.
Sims' operation was not complete until he married his beautiful wife Sue Tankersley in 1965. Their family includes daughter Robin, son-in-law Bob, and grandson John Sims Ledford who live in Hiawassee, Georgia and late daughter Kathy. Ben and Sue still reside on the property originally settled by Sims' family forefathers in 1878.
"Sue and I have fed out thousands of sheep, raised many cattle, and still find time to spend the summers fishing," Sims says, smiling.
For over five decades the San Juan Ranch outside Creede, Colorado is where the Sims have called home for the summer months. Nestled at the head waters of the Rio Grande River, Ben doesn't recall a summer without a glimmer of enjoyment in his eye. When the summer days become shorter and the fishing slacks off, it is back to Texas and business as usual.
"You have to encourage people to get through one phase and into the next," he advises.
"When you change administration, you change policy, and I have been lucky to be on both sides of the fence. I observed what happened at the ranch and came to town to find the resources we needed."
Sims took his first active step and partnered with the NRCS to protect his very own soil and water in Concho County in the form of a Great Plains Conservation (GPC) Program contract. This program set up operation goals and timelines, implemented practices which covered his entire operation, from cropland to rangeland, no acre was left out.
"I don't care if you get rid of the SWCD, you will still need a new group to educate and protect the soil," Sims notes.
Sims continues to "practice what he preaches". He has 66 acres enrolled in the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP), which targets environmentally significant land such as waterways, riparian buffers, field borders, and wind strips. He took the initiative to not only fence 66 acres of enrolled riparian buffer land, but instead fenced off 275 acres to provide extra protection when water is filtered into the Concho River.
With the help of NRCS, Sims has added livestock pipelines and water storage facilities that have evenly dispersed his operations grazing.
"After we added additional water supplies, I noticed that the livestock trails begin to diminish and grass production improved in certain areas," Sims recalls.
Even though there is a passion for the ranching industry, an undeniable respect to conservation and love to protect his family's heritage for the fifth generation, there is a quote by Edward Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire, which Sims takes to heart about life in general.
"Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks. Run the rivers, breathe deep of the yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive them!"
At 86 years young, Sims has learned a thing or two about land stewardship and protecting our natural resources, but as our interview came to a close, he smiles and said, "Got a new depth finder for my boat, and it is a nice day for fishing."
Some may consider this time of leisure, but for Sims it is reflection.
Ben Sims was honored for his 55 years of service on the Concho Soil and Water Conservation Board during the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board's annual meeting in San Antonio.
For over a half century, Ben Sims has been active in the agriculture business and preserving the natural resources of Concho County.
Ben Sims of Paint Rock, Texas holds his certificate honoring his 55 years of continued, dedicated service on the Concho Soil and Water Conservation Board.