Landowner of the Year 2008 - Chris Cowlbeck

 Alan Peoples, Chris Cowlbeck and Mike Sams

Chris Cowlbeck of Ardmore is not unlike other landowners in Oklahoma in that his piece of property is relatively small — just 115 acres — but his efforts to manage his land for wildlife stand out, so much so that he was recently selected as the 2008 Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Landowner of the Year.

“Chris Cowlbeck has made a number of wildlife habitat improvements to his Carter Co. property that, though done on a smaller scale, set a strong example for other landowners like him,” said Mike Sams, senior private lands biologist for the Wildlife Department. “There are quite a few small scale landowners in Oklahoma whose habitat work can go a long way in conserving wildlife in our state.”

Cowlbeck’s conservation efforts have included restoring native grasses by getting rid of Bermuda pastures, restoring oak savannah and woodlands, placing brush piles throughout open prairie habitat, fencing off riparian areas, constructing ponds, planting food plots and planting 1,700 sandplum trees to create permanent cover for quail and other wildlife. Additionally, Cowlbeck used prescribed fire to promote new growth while controlling overgrowth, and practices proper cattle stocking ratios for optimum grazing pressure. Cowlbeck also uses his property as a demonstration area for wildlife conservation practices.

Cowlbeck refers to his management efforts as the “postage stamp” approach, in that he is able to coordinate with neighbors and other nearby landowners to create a greater impact for wildlife, even though tracts of land may be of varying sizes. He said he has worked with neighbors on a number of occasions to share information, assist with projects and achieve results.

Cowlbeck’s 115 acres have been in his family for more than 30 years, but for much of that time he said it “laid idle” and became overgrown. When a friend took a walk on Cowlbeck’s land one day and reported seeing wild quail, Cowlbeck became increasingly interested in improving the property for quail habitat. From there, conservation and land management became a passion for Cowlbeck, and his passion has spread to others.

In addition to his hard work on his own land, Cowlbeck is responsible for a number of habitat improvement projects on other property as well, including the initiation of a 2,000-acre demonstration area on the Lake Murray Field Trial Grounds. Cowlbeck also chairs the Arbuckle Mountain Area Chapter of Quail Unlimited, and he developed the Habitat Improvement Team (HIT), which assists landowners in conservation efforts by providing equipment and assistance. Additionally, Cowlbeck continues to help area landowners with management practices throughout the year.

Visit with Cowlbeck and you will quickly learn why he puts so much effort into conservation. He calls it “infectious,” and though he owns six bird dogs and enjoys hunting, he has just as much interest in the actual work that goes into producing results ideal for hunting.

“I get equal amounts of satisfaction in improving the land and harvesting quail and watching the birddogs work,” Cowlbeck said.

Cowlbeck emphasizes his belief that many people want to practice habitat management on their property but do not know where to start, but he says the solution is not as complicated as it may seem and encourages landowners to go to work, even if it is just one step at a time.

“You have to put your feet on the ground and your hands on the equipment to see the birds fly,” Cowlbeck said.

The Wildlife Department offers several landowner programs ranging from deer management assistance (DMAP) to the Landowner Incentive Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners for habitat restoration and enhancement. There is also a wealth of information available for those interested in managing pond fisheries and publications and newsletters released regularly that contain useful information on conservation and habitat management.

For more information about landowner programs offered by the Wildlife Department, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.