Spread across north central and southwest Texas, the five working ranches owned and managed by Dixon Water Foundation are sights to behold. Their mission, to promote healthy watersheds through sustainable land management to ensure that future generations have the water resources they need, has led to successful restoration of plant diversity, improved watershed conditions and wildlife habitat across all of their ranches.
The primary habitat management technique applied on all of the ranches is holistic planned grazing. The grazing practice is designed to mimic the historic grazing of large herds for short periods of time, followed by a long recovery period. Livestock are grouped together and graze a small paddock, which results in high stock density for a brief period of time. As the livestock walk, graze and deposit manure and urine, the soil is stimulated to cycle minerals. The foundation has become recognized for its ability to successfully implement this grazing technique.
At one of the ranches along Alamito Creek, salt cedar has been selectively removed along the creek to help maintain healthy native riparian wetland plant communities. Some mesquite has also been mechanically removed along the creek in order to restore the native giant sacaton plant community. All of the ranches are involved in ongoing vegetation monitoring, which is used to adjust their grazing management plans.
Although wildlife management is not the primary goal for the foundation, their management practices have the added benefit of providing excellent habitat for wildlife without the need for supplemental feeding or nesting structures. Their careful management has led to better quality grasslands that support pronghorn and 26 grassland bird species, 15 of which are Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Texas. Visitors to the ranches are encouraged to explore the grounds and take advantage of the bird watching, hiking and opportunities for nature photography.
Dixon Water Foundation embraces education on all of their ranches. The ranches have hosted outdoor classroom events, where students are exposed to sustainable land management practices and are education on water quality, soil health and plants through hands-on activities. On the collegiate level, one of the ranches is used as a demonstration site for the Sustainable Ranching Program at Sul Ross State University. The program is the only one of its kind in Texas offering a B.S. and two-year certificate in Sustainable Ranch Management.
“The Dixon Water Foundation’s pioneering efforts could not come at a better time. As we search for ways to enhance food, water and economic security, while building resilience and healthy landscapes, the foundation’s work is central,” says Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project. “Its commitment to experimentation, demonstration, documentation and education will be key to advancing the science and public support for regenerative grazing that Texas and the West will need in the coming decades.”