Fifty years of brush sculpting on Chaparrosa Ranch

PAT REARDON, Chaparrosa Ranch, La Pryor, Texas

Brush eradication, control, management and/or sculpting began on the Chaparrosa Ranch nearly 50 years ago. The word Chaparrosa actually means “brushy area” so this has been an ideal place to try out all types of brush treatment. The first large scale project was to chain about 50,000 acres. I did not see it, but I can imagine that all the trees except those along the major creek bottoms were knocked down. What a site that must have been? Was it the right thing to do? It may have been the best option in those days since this was cattle country and there was little income from or concern for wildlife.

Today we lease hunting rights on Chaparrosa Ranch for $10.00 per acre and grazing rights would bring $4.00 per acre. Some may say, why even have cattle? However, it would not be economically wise to eliminate cattle from our ranch operation since they can generate some income and can actually help sculpt our rangelands to benefit wildlife. Perhaps in the near future most Texas landowners or old time cattle managers will admit that the most profitable operations are those that put wildlife habitat improvement above livestock habitat improvement. In recent years there have been dozens of all size ranches in our area that were bought by individuals who’s only objective was to raise a Boone and Crockett white-tailed buck. I’ll have to admit, if I had the money I probably would do the same.

However, very few if any of these people are worried about economics. Presently I know of no south Texas ranches that make a true net profit without wildlife income. If this economic incentive is ever taken away by limiting the consumptive or non-consumptive income from wildlife, there will be little if any wildlife management. Hunting lease values have never gone down on well managed places, but we all know the ups and downs of livestock prices.

The evolution of brush treatment on Chaparrosa Ranch has been guided by economics, owner objectives, research results and past mistakes. It began with chaining vast areas, then clearing all brush and planting improved grasses in 500-1,000 acre pastures, then clearing 1,200 foot wide strips of brush, then 600 foot wide, then 400 foot wide, then 300 foot and finally 100 foot wide strips. We have used fire to control regrowth brush in improved pastures and a roller chopper to create better quail habitat. Treating the brush in areas that have nearly a complete overstory of brush on our best soils has given us the quickest, longest lasting and most economical return on treatment costs. This was all in an effort to more wisely improve our wildlife and cattle habitats by creating more “edges” and increasing available forages for wildlife and cattle.

Some will say this evolution has gone from brush eradication to control, to management to sculpting. I will agree up to a point. However, when I look at a brush plant that I do not want, I do not want to control, manage or sculptor it, I want to eradicate or flat wipe it out. Period! So we still need to know how to eradicate brush. But, I will admit, we need to know how to “sculpt” a brush community to fit a desired objective. Of course I will also admit that in some cases, we need to sculpt an individual plant to make it’s foliage more nutritious and palatable. Also, sculpting a brush community to favor quail is somewhat different than for deer.

My wildlife biologist friends often shudder when I tell them we just aerial sprayed 3,000 acres of brush. Actually, at least 40,000 acres of aerial spraying has been done on Chaparrosa ranch since 2,4,5,-T, Grazon, Spike, Reclaim and other chemicals were first used. Research done here 25 years ago showed that deer left the aerial sprayed areas only temporarily. Today the aerial spraying we do primarily reduces the mesquite and twisted acacia overstory while leaving the desirable wildlife brush species.

Thus, brush treatment done on this ranch has been a major factor in making it what it is today. Research, trial and error and changing objectives have altered our techniques, but we still want to either eradicate or sculptor brush plants while sculpturing our rangeland brush communities. As once written by Aldo Leopold, “the central thesis of game management is this: game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it – – ax, plow, cow, fire and gun”. In a broader sense we could say: it is not the use of a gun, alcohol, vehicle, sex, money, political power, ammonium nitrate fertilizer or a root plow; rather it is the misuse of these same things that cause our problems.

Comments: Dale Rollins, Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Updated: Mar. 18, 1997

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