I work with many deserving landowners each year to help improve their wildlife habitat. RC (Rick) Brown is the Wildlife Department’s Landowner Conservationist of the Year.
Gathered for the 2021 ODWC Landowner Conservationist of the Year Award presentation are, from left, ODWC Director J.D. Strong, Private Lands Biologist Brett Cooper, landowners Phyllis and RC Brown, ODWC Wildlife Chief Bill Dinkines, and Wildlife Assistant Chief Russ Horton. (Photo by Don P. Brown/ODWC)
Rick has worked steadily on improving his 6,732-acre ranch in Woods County since around 2000 but really turned it up a notch in 2010. The ranch consists of native rangeland with grasses like big bluestem and side oats grama, forbs like western ragweed and croton, and shrubs like sand sagebrush and sand plum.
RC Brown's ranch prior to habitat improvements.
Technical assistance and funding for his habitat improvements have come from the Wildlife Department’s Private Lands Programs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. He has an active wildlife management plan that he follows for lesser prairie-chicken and other upland species. This includes grazing exclosures that help see how much grass has been grazed. Practicing a “take half leave half” policy has left vertical structure (taller grasses) for the next spring’s nesting season.
Like many in western Oklahoma, Rick had a big problem with eastern redcedar encroachment. The biggest reason for eastern redcedar encroachment is the suppression of fires that were a natural occurrence historically. Eastern redcedar is a highly invasive tree that drinks copious amounts of water, reduces grass, and also increases fire intensity.
Rick runs a cow-calf operation and having more grass is important for grazing. More native grass and no eastern redcedar are also positives for northern bobwhite, lesser prairie-chicken, wild turkey, and white-tailed deer.
Rick started implementing his management plan by establishing fire breaks and creating a prescribed burning program. He is an active member of the Cimarron Range Preservation Prescribed Burn Association (PBA). PBAs are a great place to find information and assistance about prescribed burning. (Find more information about prescribed burning and prescribed bun associations at ok-pba.org.)
Prescribed fire was part of Brown's wildlife management plan and followed eastern redcedar removal.
Rick’s next step was to mechanically remove eastern redcedar in 400-acre blocks. The eastern redcedar was mechanically removed and stacked in the draws for the prescribed burning. He has cut and burned more than 3,000 acres of eastern redcedar.
Eastern redcedar were mechanically removed in 400-acre blocks.
He has his ground leased for hunting and now hears the praises of the increased wildlife because of the mechanical eastern redcedar removal and prescribed burning he’s completed.
RC Brown's ranch after habitat improvements.