AUSTIN — A self-proclaimed “East Texas river rat” with Harvard undergraduate and medical degrees whose lifelong love of bottomland hardwood country ignited landscape conservation along the Trinity River Basin, Dr. Robert McFarlane is the 2015 recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award.
Dr. McFarlane accepted the Leopold crystal award, the state’s highest honor for private land conservation, and a check for $10,000 at the 20th Lone Star Land Steward Awards dinner in Austin on May 6.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award is conferred each year by Sand County Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to private land conservation, in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) as part of its Lone Star Land Steward Awards program. In Texas, the Leopold Conservation Award Program is sponsored by the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
During the past 20 years, The Lone Star Land Steward Awards program has recognized nearly 200 landowners across Texas for conserving more than 3 million acres of fish and wildlife habitat. Dr. McFarlane’s journey to conserve and restore critical bottomland hardwood habitat on his Anderson County ranch, The BigWoods on the Trinity, also began 20 years ago.
Dr. McFarlane or “Doc” as he’s known to friends began his quest in 1995 with an initial purchase of 1,500 acres 90 miles southeast of Dallas along the Trinity River near where he hunted and fished as a kid. Since then he has pieced together an additional 6,000 acres of river bottom, open marsh wetlands and upland hardwoods. A practicing cardiologist in nearby Palestine, Dr. McFarlane named his BigWoods after William Faulkner’s 1955 novel by the same name.
“When it comes to the land Doc is one of those consummate lifelong learners,” said TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith. “He is as innovative, creative and committed to the stewardship of his beloved BigWoods and the fabled Trinity River as anyone possibly could be. As a steward of the land, water and earth, there simply is no one finer and we are deeply proud to have his work acknowledged with this award.”
When Dr. McFarlane acquired the property, it was highly-fragmented and over-grazed. During the last 20 years, he has worked tirelessly to enhance the aquatic resources on the property and the terrestrial systems that are associated with them using adaptive management strategies.
“Dr. McFarlane’s efforts to restore this remarkable area of the Trinity River are a great representation of what it means to be a good steward of the land,” said Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation President.
In addition to improvements on his own property, Dr. McFarlane has reached out to neighboring landowners in an effort to conserve habitats throughout the Trinity River Basin. He founded the Middle Trinity River Conservation Cooperative (now Trinity Waters) and served as president for five years.
An avid duck hunter, much of Dr. McFarlane’s work has focused on waterfowl. He is dedicated to long term stewardship and has secured perpetual conservation easements on the property through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetland Reserve Program and Ducks Unlimited.
A video commemorating Dr. McFarlane’s accomplishment at The BigWoods on the Trinity can be viewed below:
Initiated in 1996 by the TPWD Private Lands Advisory Committee, the Lone Star Land Steward Awards set out to recognize private landowners for excellence in habitat management and wildlife conservation; as well as, to illustrate the important role that landowners play in the conservation of Texas’ natural resources. The program also focuses on encouraging youth education and in the importance of engaging future generations of Texans in responsible habitat management and ecosystem health.
The Lone Star Land Steward Awards program relies on partners and sponsors for its continued success. TPWD is partnering with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation to host the awards program with Toyota as the presenting sponsor. Additional sponsors include: Silver Eagle Distributors, Texas Westmoreland Coal Company, Colorado River Land Trust, Lower Colorado River Authority, Earth Day Texas, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Advanced Ecology, Ltd. and Terra Stone Land Company, AgWorkers Auto Insurance and AgPro Insurance Agency, Capital Farm Credit, DM Wood Foundation, Dorothy Drummer & Associates, Ducks Unlimited, East Wildlife Foundation, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, Hill Country Alliance, Hoffpauir Auto Group and Outdoor Stores, Legacy Land & Ranches, Llano Springs Ranch, Ltd., National Wild Turkey Federation – Texas State Chapter, Native American Seed, Nueces River Authority, Oncor, Sarco Creek Ranch – Milton and Bridey Greeson, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Land Trust Council, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Texas Wildlife Association, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.