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Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers in the Soil and Water Conservation Movement in South Texas


Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers in the Soil and Water Conservation Movement in South Texas, 1940s to Present
Armando C Alonzo. Agricultural History. Berkeley: Spring 2004.Vol.78, Iss. 2; pg. 201
Subjects: Americans Locations: Author(s): Document types: Publication title: Source type: ISSN/ISBN: ProQuest document ID: Text Word Count Document URL: 7708 http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=628819361&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=47906&R QT=309&VName=PQD Texas Armando C Alonzo Feature Agricultural History. Berkeley: Spring 2004. Vol. 78, Iss. 2; pg. 201 Periodical 00021482 628819361 Soil conservation, Water conservation, Farmers, Hispanic

Abstract (Document Summary)

Conservation of natural resources in South Texas is basically a modern development that parallels the evolution of the Soil Conservation Service and other federal agricultural agencies. Since the World War II era, Hispanic producers have played an important role in adopting new conservation practices to conserve and enhance the value of their lands. Initially, the region was a natural grassland devoted to ranching, but farm development in the early twentieth century led to a sharp increase in irrigated farmland along the Rio Grande. Conservation practices during the long period of extensive ranching were ineffective. As a result, by the twentieth century much of the grasslands were turned into brushland due to overgrazing, the disuse of fires to suppress weeds and useless shrubs, soil compaction, and soil and wind erosion. Hispanic farmers and ranchers had to be convinced that new practices were beneficial. The cooperation of SCS, ASCS, and other agencies facilitated the work of introducing new practices, such as disking, root plowing, seeding of new grasses, and range management practices. Farmers also benefited from new practices. Construction of Falcon Dam in 1954 was a great boost to water conservation and flood control. The last forty years have seen a rapid growth in wildlife ranches and the sale of rangelands to prosperous professionals and businessmen and women. At present, three thousand Hispanic producers are dedicated to conserving their water and soil resources, adapting to these two new developments.

Full Text (7708

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Copyright University of California Press Spring 2004
[Headnote]

Conservation of natural resources in South Texas is basically a modern development that parallels the evolution of the Soil Conservation Service and other federal agricultural agencies. Since the World War II era, Hispanic producers have played an important role in adopting new conservation practices to conserve and enhance the value of their lands. Initially, the region was a natural grassland devoted to ranching, but farm development in the early twentieth century led to a sharp increase in irrigated farmland along the Rio Grande. Conservation practices during the long period of extensive ranching were ineffective. As a result, by the twentieth century much of the grasslands were turned into brushland due to overgrazing, the disuse of fires to suppress weeds and useless shrubs, soil compaction, and soil and wind erosion. Hispanic farmers and ranchers had to be convinced that new practices were beneficial. The cooperation of SCS, ASCS, and other agencies facilitated the work of introducing new practices, such as disking, root plowing, seeding of new grasses, and range management practices. Farmers also benefited from new practices. Construction of Falcon Dam in 1954 was a great boost to water conservation and flood control. The last forty years have seen a rapid growth in wildlife ranches and the sale of rangelands to prosperous professionals and businessmen and women. At present, three thousand Hispanic producers are dedicated to conserving their water and soil resources, adapting to these two new developments.

From the Spanish-Mexican period (1730s to 1848) to the present, Hispanic settlers in South Texas have contributed to the agricultural economy. With the exception of the Lower Valley's irrigated farmland, stock raising and dry land farming prevailed over much of the region. Since the eighteenth century the ranching economy benefited from the area's vast grasslands, salt lakes, as well as other natural resources. Devastating economic and environmental conditions, however, ended sheep ranching in the 1890s. Throughout the twentieth century the production of beef cattle dominated the business activities of both Anglo and Hispanic ranchers. Presently three thousand Hispanics, mostly small-size cattle ranchers and a few farmers produce in the region. Since the World War II era, Hispanics have participated in the soil conservation movement, adhering to the guidelines provided by the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) and other federal conservation agencies. The interaction of these agencies and the nature of problems faced by agricultural producers define the Hispanic role in conservation and the impact of multipurpose land uses during the last sixty years. Assisted by the technical services of the SCS, the financial support of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), and the research conducted by Texas A&M University and its agencies, Hispanic producers played an essential role in ensuring the vitality of the land in South Texas through the adoption of modern soil and water conservation practices. The origins of Hispanic land tenure and ranching derived from Spain's fear of foreign encroachment, coupled with its desire to pacify the nomadic Native Americans of the western Gulf Coast. To remedy fear and fulfill desire, Spain founded a new colony called La Colonia del Nuevo Santander in 1747. Nuevo Santander stretched along the Gulf Coast from Tampico to the Medina River south of San Antonio. Land tenure in the new colony consisted of a small number of private land grants for stock raising and common landholding grants for town settlers, including five along the lower Rio Grande. In 1767 a royal commission replaced common landholding with individual

land titles. The northern part of the colony, now called the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, enticed settlers who sought additional land grants for stock raising. From 1750 to 1848 Spain and Mexico awarded about 365 land grants in the region from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande, the northern district of Nuevo Santander. These lands became the settlers' main source of wealth because of the rapid development of stock raising. A mixed ranching economy thrived in response to the expansion of mining and urban growth on the northern frontier of New Spain. The main unit of production was the rancho (small ranch) and not the hacienda (ranching estate). Most of the enterprises were small or moderate-size operations headed by an individual owner and his immediate family, with only large ranches employing cowboys, shepherds, laborers, and ancillary workers. With the opening of the port of Matamoros in 1820, trade shifted to Texas. After annexation, the region became a part of Texas.1 The same lands, now part of South Texas and Tamaulipas (the successor state to Nuevo Santander), are part of the Tamaulipan biotic province. Due to its location and climate, this territory is a rich and complex zone with a diversity of flora and wildlife; a crossroads between the temperate climates and lands of Texas and the tropics of northeastern Mexico. Within South Texas, there are two districts, the Matamoran biotic that covers the Lower Valley counties and the Nuecian in the remaining lands that make up South Texas as far as San Antonio. Two major ecological areas divide the province: the Gulf Prairies/Marshes and the South Texas Plains. Twelve vegetation types, excluding crops, characterize this broad region. At the time of European settlement, the lands in the province were natural grassland interspersed with trees, cacti, and thorny shrubs along rivers; other waterways, such as arroyos and lagunas; and places that retained sufficient moisture for their growth.2 For social and natural scientists, the key questions have been when did the grasslands become brush lands and how did this change occur. There is general agreement that European (the Spanish and their descendants, the Mexicans) and later Anglo use of the land for stock raising purposes introduced intensive and sustained grazing. At the same time, the suppression of fire produced the necessary condition for the rapid diffusion of brush and other harmful shrubs and plants. Rain and wind erosion depleted the land of better topsoil, causing the ground to compact and exposing underlying clayey soils. The historical data is too scanty to precisely date this event. However, because ranching in South Texas reached its apex in terms of numbers of animals and the extent of sustained grazing at the end of the ranching boom in 1890, it is likely that by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the "brush country" replaced the grasslands. Furthermore, the deterioration in the quality of rangelands and native wildlife continued largely unabated until the first soil and water conservation districts organized in the 1940s.3 Very little is known about Hispanic and Anglo conservation practices prior to the twentieth century. The few available documents reveal that Nuevo Santander adopted regulations that restricted cattle roundups and drives during the rainy season, as well as in periods of drought. Ocassionally authorities prohibited the export of certain kinds of livestock to avoid the depletion of herds. Periodic movement of stock from one pasture to another was customary. Both Hispanics and Anglos employed fire to control weeds and brush, but the practice gradually fell into disuse as the number of stockraisers rose and fires posed greater danger than benefit to them and other settlers. In

Spanish Texas, royal officers prohibited the wanton slaughter of unbranded cattle. In addition, they taxed ranchers who gathered wild cattle and placed an export fee on livestock. Droughts in Nuevo Leon and Nuevo Santander in the mid-1780s led their governors to prohibit the export of horses. The lack of restrictions on water use allowed both Hispanic and Anglos to dam arroyos (streams) to create reservoirs for their herds. Hispanics also made reservoirs and tanques (water ponds) for their cattle, an important practice employed by ranchers to this day. Hand-dug wells commonly supplemented the water supply. In 1899 rancher Richard King bored the ground to reach artesian water, a practice that others quickly adopted. Because Hispanics eventually owned smaller tracts of land for ranching, they may have had a more direct detrimental environmental impact on land use than the few Anglo ranchers who created large landed estates.4 The early twentieth century saw a vast transformation in land use in South Texas with the introduction of large-scale irrigation projects in the Lower Valley. The decline of stock raising and the start of experimental irrigated farms in the last years of the nineteenth century called for a railroad that would link the region with larger, distant markets in the country. Finally in 1904, the St. Louis, Brownsville, Mexican Railway arrived. This opened the area for intensive town and farm development, enticing settlers from the Midwest and South to the subtropical lands of the new "Magic Valley." With outside capital, new farmers, experienced Hispanic rancheros, and the availability of cheap Mexican labor, the region underwent rapid growth. Rancheros taught newcomers about the crops they grew, the quality of the soils, the effects of salts on them, and how to irrigate the land. By the 1920s the Lower Valley emerged as one of the premier agricultural regions of the country, specializing in citrus, vegetables, and cotton. Nearby Hispanic landholders and sharecroppers produced cotton, corn, and livestock. However, agricultural lands soon developed drainage problems, necessitating the first research and technical assistance programs of the office Soil Erosion Experiment Stations (SEES). At the start of World War II, both Anglo and Hispanic landholders in South Texas sought governmental assistance to protect and improve their lands and the scarce water resources. In this context, the soil and water conservation movement came to South Texas.5 The origins of the SCS can be traced to the SEES and the establishment of one of its first three stations in Temple, Texas, in April 1929, under the Buchanan Amendment enacted in 1928. As the title indicates, the work of the stations focused on water and soil erosion. In 1933 Harold Ickes, secretary of the interior, created the Soil Erosion Service (SES) in the Department of the Interior. H. H. Bennett, formerly in charge of SEES, became director of this new agency. SEES then set up nine watershed projects to carry out erosion control and proper land use. One of the first projects, established on Elm Creek in Temple in November 1933, became the model for similar projects in other Texas locations. In 1934 Emergency Conservation Work under the direction of the Soil Erosion Service utilized manpower from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC workers assisted the farmers in implementing conservation practices. In the following years the SES transferred to the Department of Agriculture, and all activities pertaining to soil erosion then fell under the jurisdiction of the SCS, including the SEES. In 1935 Congress directed the Secretary of Agriculture to employ the SCS to carry out a national conservation program. Two years later Franklin D. Roosevelt urged the states to enact legislation to allow the creation of conservation districts. After 1935 new legislation transformed the SCS from an erosion-control agency to one

with many program activities. As a consequence, conflict arose between the SCS and other agencies over the implementation of conservation, agricultural, and environmental goals.6 Federal agencies involved in conservation sometimes still work at cross-purposes, or without cooperation concerning common goals. For example, the SCS and the cost-sharing and supply-control programs administered by ASCS aim to promote soil conservation practices; however, some of the monies paid by the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) are for production and not conservation purposes. Whereas the SCS has taken a voluntary approach to conservation, ASCS offers financial incentives. Pollution control is another goal causing the two agencies to bicker. In the end, ASCS received jurisdiction over rural non-point pollution, such as that resulting from agricultural activities. The SCS also disputed with the extension services over which agency should have the lead in conservation and education programs with regard to conservation tillage. Interestingly, one specialist in the Lower Valley asserts that despite the efforts of both agencies, conservation tillage gained acceptance as a result of the efforts of one large producer who demonstrated its benefits.7 The state of Texas adopted legislation in 1939 authorizing landowners to organize soil conservation districts. The districts could organize by a majority vote of landowners; five elected supervisors direct the affairs of each district. Landholders organized the first district in Temple in 1940. The next year SCS opened a field office to assist landowners in the district. SCS also founded a state office at this time in Temple and then appointed the first state conservationist. The organization of most soil and water conservation districts in South Texas dates to the World War II era and early post-war years (see Table 1). All of the proposed districts followed the same procedure beginning with a public hearing on the desirability and necessity of creating such a district. Under state law, fifty landholders (or the majority of the landholders in less-populated areas) in the proposed district signed a petition requesting a hearing. The state board then examined the petition and the results of the hearing. Normally, at this point the state board made a determination of need for the organization of the district and defined the district's boundaries. Upon a finding that there was a need for the district, a date was then set for the landowners in the area to vote on the creation of the district.8 Hispanics participated in creating the new districts by signing petitions, attending meetings, voting, and serving on local boards. With the exception of two districts in which Anglo farmers were dominant, Hispanics held elected seats on the local boards from their inception. Although the local districts are governmental units in which grassroots democracy is at work, they have very little power, and according to conservation architect, Frederick R. Steiner, "the decision-making apparatus of soil conservation has been placed largely in the hands of men who control a closed system to which the general public has very little access." Such a situation makes the local districts insular, and there is no access to them by the urban sector.9 To understand the problems faced by agriculturalists in South Texas, limited written materials on the early practices in soil and water conservation necessitates resorting to historical memory among first- and second-generation producers. The problem of brush control received considerable attention from the SCS as a result of surveys conducted in 1948 and 1963. The latter survey found

that brush infested 93 percent of the lands in the Rio Grande Plains region. Moderate to dense stands of brush grew throughout the various counties in South Texas, except for the southern two-thirds of Hidalgo and Willacy Counties, and all of Cameron County. Willacy County's Program and Plan of Work noted that continuous overgrazing of grasslands converted them into a tangle of mesquite and underbrush. In addition, by the 1930s excessive hunting depleted much of the deer population. As described in Table 2, major concerns in the region included water salinity, inadequate flood control, scarce water resources, and wind erosion.10 For the past sixty years, soil and water conservation practices performed a critical role in conserving and enhancing the value of lands and other natural resources in South Texas. Agricultural producers, conservationists, and personnel from other governmental agencies worked tirelessly to promote better practices. Noe Martinez, who joined the SCS in 1956 recalled that "it took a lot of talking and working with farmers and ranchers to convince them to adopt new practices." The ASCS, and now the Farm Service Agency (FSA), have played important roles assisting producers financially as they pursued their conservation goals. Many of the Hispanic producers, engaged in family-run operations, did not have the capital to effect such changes on their own. For example, according to the Texas State FSA from 1983 to 1998, the twelve counties in the region received $7,969,837 in Agricultural Conservation Program (ACP) allocations and $2,308,062 in long term agreements, which are usually for five years. Also, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provided $5.5 million from 1996 to the present, mostly for lands in Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron, and Duval counties.11 Interdependence among federal agencies serving the agriculturalists and adoption of new conservation practices played a big part in the conservation movement. In the 1940s and 1950s, the main practices used by ranchers involved brush control, seeding of new grasses, and the construction of tanques. The availability of new equipment, such as larger tractors and caterpillars, facilitated uprooting the brush that had grown from overstocking. Clearing brush from fence to fence was the standard practice. Progress was gradual because agriculturists wanted to see the results themselves before implementing new practices. Therefore, one of the standard customs of the districts has been annual or semi-annual tours of farms and ranches that implement new practices, agricultural seeds and plants, and livestock. By the early 1960s ranchers had cleared 80 percent of the brush from land in the entire Rio Grande Plains region of Texas. Brush clearing methods of chaining and chopping gave way to root plowing and seeding of new grasses in smaller acreages. Survey data of the South Texas Plains region showed that both government program participants and non-participants increasingly accepted these new practices.12 The introduction of new grasses such as buffel and coastal bermuda proved to be one of the most beneficial practices. The hardiness of these grasses, their rapid growth under ideal conditions, and their nutritional value, led to widespread acceptance. Ranchers still proudly recall the excellent quality of their pastures, asserting that even a good inch of rain leads to rapid growth of grasses. They believe that these new grasses were vital to the recovery of the region following the long history of overgrazing and the effects of the drought of the early 1950s.13 Conservationists also provided technical assistance to ranchers on such matters as water ponds,

wells, windmills, and pipelines. Some of the resulting water tanks are still in use today. Some breeds of cattle are not good walkers, so ranchers located the tanks within a short distance of where the cattle grazed. Where the ranchers could successfully impound water, they placed tanks every one-quarter mile. Throughout the region operators continue to utilize all of these water management practices.14 Brush control and water collection are essential factors of conservation management. However, the introduction of proper management practices in cropland, grazing, and rangelands in South Texas also became one of the key objectives of conservationists. For ranchers, cross-fencing (dividing acreage into smaller areas) became a key element of the new practices. It facilitated the rotation of herds into various pasturelands. Conservationist Felix Saenz asserts that all of the known pasture management systems, including holistic grazing, are in use in the region. This, in turn, leads to an increased interest in breeding programs, and thus a better grade of livestock grazes on vastly improved pastures.15 Land management for farmers included additional acts upon the land, beyond those of the ranchers. Improving their cropland required terracing, leveling land, and laying drainage pipes. Mexican workers performed the tedious manual work of digging ditches and placing tile in the fields of local farmers. Tiles leached out the salts that accumulated in the soil as a result of using irrigation water from the Rio Grande. Since 1991 conservation tillage-leaving the residue after harvest on the land to reduce wind and water erosion of the soil-replaced deep tillage on cropland in South Texas as a way to control production costs while enhancing good soil practices. Land leveling is still being done in the Lower Valley as well as re-leveling which also minimizes soil erosion. Additionally, farmers are putting in irrigation systems, using poly pipes over the land to transfer and distribute water. In the last five years, some farmland has been taken out of cropland and seeded to pastureland to stop degradation of marginal and sub-marginal lands.16 For farmers, one of the most important developments in land management was the construction of Falcon Dam on the lower Rio Grande, eighty miles southeast of Laredo, in 1954. Jointly built, owned and operated by the United States and Mexico, Falcon Dam impounds water for all uses, including agriculture. Farmers and residents on both banks of the Rio Grande benefited by the new ?ood control measures provided by the dam and floodway systems. Unfortunately, recent drought conditions and impoundment of water by Mexico created a dispute over allocation of water. At present, the issue is still alive, with U.S. agricultural interests strongly pressuring the federal government to force Mexico to deliver more water into the Rio Grande.17 From the 1940s to the present, Hispanic producers displayed vigorous support of the soil conservation movement. The following cases illustrate the continuity of Hispanic involvement with soil conservation. Now aged ninety, Rodolfo Garza remained an active agricultural producer from the 1950s until 1999. He was one of six brothers who farmed and ranched on about nine thousand acres in the vicinity of La Copita, in Starr County. The Garzas cleared much of the land and placed it in production, and then with the assistance of SCS, used root plowing and grass seeding to improve their pastures. Buffel grass proved to be ideal, and it became a lifesaver following the drought of the early 1950s. Initially, the Garzas raised mixed-breed cattle but later changed to

Maine-Angou. Eventually they divided the land among the six brothers, and Rodolfo Garza received his share of about 1,500 acres of cotton, grain, and corn. Cotton, in particular, was a key crop until the 1960s, with over one thousand acres in production. Braceros provided the necessary labor. The end of the bracero program required the use of mechanical cottonpickers, which made growing cotton prohibitive. The farmers then replaced cotton with sorghum, an ideal crop in the drylands district of the region. Rodolfo's son, Omar J. Garza asserts that until the early 1980s the agriculturists in those districts produced good crops because there were adequate and timely rains. He believes that since then, weather changes have proved detrimental for the producers.18 Omar J. Garza, at age fifty-three, presently serves as the county clerk of Starr County and is an agricultural producer owning six hundred acres. Omar started farming on his own in 1980, implementing a variety of conservation practices, including cross-fences, a water distribution system, and grazing tolerance limits on his rangeland for his small cow-and-calf operation. Having instituted these practices years ago, Omar says that he now focuses on the "management side" of ranching. Unlike his father, Omar has a formal university education with two degrees in agriculture.19 The Guerra family is one of the most active supporters of the SCS and other governmental programs to assist producers. Like his father and grandfather, Rafael Guerra, presently of McAllen, Texas, was active in ranching, farming, and related businesses. At first, he settled at La Reforma, an agricultural community in northeastern Starr County. From there, he moved to McAllen and then Linn, a small rural community north of Edinburg, where some of the Guerra lands are located. He adopted the standard conservation practices to improve his properties. Guerra formed a partnership known as Guerra Bros. to engage in ranching and farming operations. The partnership dissolved in 1989 because of the detrimental effects of drought and low prices for the producers. Three of Rafael's four sons opted to start their own ranches, as did his daughter. At present, the Guerra family controls 20,000 acres of rangeland and an additional 1,200 acres leased as farmland. The ranches are cow-and-calf operations, and each of Rafael's children presently have from 175 to 450 cattle in their pasturelands.20 Dario V. Guerra Sr. planted coastal bermuda grass, cleared brush land, drilled new water wells, used brush strips as windbreakers, and introduced Brahma crossbreeds following their importation to Texas in 1945. Sharecroppers once farmed some of his land, but it is now in the CRP program. Continuing the Guerra family tradition, third-generation Texas rancher (with a degree in Animal Husbandry) D. V. Guerra Jr. first worked with his father. On his own since the mid-1970s, Guerra Jr. continues to utilize time-tested soil and water conservation measures on four thousand acres of grazing lands in Hidalgo County. He has a cow-and-calf operation which, due to the drought, is down from five hundred head of cattle to one hundred fifty.21 Hispanic women make up a small number of ranchers, and as producers they too rely on the technical assistance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Nelda Garcia of Jim Wells County, after teaching school in California for more than twenty years, returned home to help care for her ailing father, Alfredo Garcia of Ben Bolt, Texas. Her father, a bookkeeper, was involved with several brothers in farming, ranching, and general business on 1,061 inherited acres. Upon the

death of her father, Nelda inherited his land and was in a partnership with an uncle for about a year. She went independent in 1977. She sought the assistance of the NRCS as well as other agencies, and about five years ago garnered an elected position on the board of the Jim Wells County district. Garcia runs Beefmaster cattle on her ranch and contracts with the NRCS to carry out conservation practices including clearing brush, seeding buffel grass, and building cross-fences. Leases for quail and deer hunting are part of her land-use practices.22 Small Hispanic producers also participate in soil and water conservation. Alejandro Montemayor Sr., patriarch of the Montemayor family, bought about two thousand acres in Duval County in 1935 with money that his wife received from an oil well on her land. Montemayor was a founder and director of the Duval County district. He implemented a number of conservation practices, including root plowing, disking, seeding new grasslands to buffel grass, harvesting grass seed for sale, cross-fencing, and setting aside strips for wildlife. When the elder Montemayor died in 1960, his youngest son, Amando Montemayor left college to administer the ranch until 1975, when the land was partitioned among three brothers and one sister. As a result of the partition, each sibling received about five hundred acres, and each producer presently maintains twenty-five to fifty head of cattle. Leases for quail hunting are also part of the income for these producers. Amando Montemayor was a longtime member of the board until his death in July 2001. One of the brothers, Alejandro Montemayor Jr., said that he and his siblings continue to keep abreast of new developments in soil and water conservation, following their brother's model of implementing soil and water conservation practices.23 Continuity of Hispanic landownership in South Texas means that the third generation now manages the land and enhances conservation traditions of the previous operators. Salvador Salinas was one of the original board members of the Starr County district. Uvaldo Salinas took his father's place in 1954. Uvaldo's three sons, including Salvador Salinas, who is an Assistant State Conservationist for Texas, represent the third generation of Hispanic producers. Known as Las Escobas Ranch, Uvaldo Salinas co-owns six thousand acres with two brothers. At present about three hundred cattle graze on sections of the ranch. Uvaldo's sons, Salvador, Uvaldo Jr., and David leased 1,300 acres of the ranch for three years and made improvements for the purpose of building up the native wildlife population. After spending nearly fifty thousand dollars to construct the needed improvements, such as fences, a water distribution system, and to control brush and plant proper native species and crops for wildlife, the Salinas's offered their first lease in 2003. They intend to convert the entire ranch into a managed wildlife ranch.24 The proliferation of wildlife ranches is one of two developments in the last forty years to influence land tenure and conservation. The second development is the growing number of ranchettes as a result of urbanization and economic prosperity. In the 1960s the preservation of wildlife habitat in the pasturelands of South Texas became an important goal of landholders to enhance the value of the land and secure additional income. Clearing some sections of the rangelands and leaving the adjacent brush land intact replaced the old way of clearing brush. The use of the lands for recreational purposes, especially hunting, gained popularity because producers realized they could earn steady income. While not every landholder can afford to implement wildlife habitat practices, in some cases very large ranches or units of those ranches increasingly rely on leasing their land for

hunting. Some ranchers merely utilize their pastures for both stock raising and hunting without any special improvements for wildlife habitat. Others make considerable improvements. Due to the persistent drought of the last ten years, some ranchers are spending large sums of money to enhance the wildlife habitat in their lands. High fences alone cost from ten to fifteen thousand dollars per mile to erect, and other improvements, such as ponds, water pipelines, and permanent feeders, are also costly.25 High-fenced management lands on ranches command good prices for hunting leases. Hunting leases currently average seven to ten dollars per acre. Zapata County has ten ranches with high fences, covering about fifty thousand acres. One successful example is Guillermo Vela's ranch on the Webb-Zapata County line. His 2,400 acre ranch has a twenty-year history of wildlife management. One trophy buck brought the owner twenty thousand dollars. The economic impact of hunting leases is considerable. The Monte Mucho District in Jim Hogg County estimated that the deer season generated an estimated $1.5 million in 1996. Four years later the amount rose to $4.5 million. Duval County, which is larger than Jim Hogg County, receives an additional income of about eight million dollars from hunting leases. The county agricultural agent at Laredo estimates that the Webb County economy gained $11.6 million in 2000 as a result of hunting activities.26 Initially controversial, the use of high fences to enclose rangelands led to the organization of wildlife associations. The controversy arose because the use of high fences by some ranchers kept much of the deer population within their boundaries. This resulted in an imbalance among the deer in the surrounding territory, which was detrimental to other ranchers. Such was the case, for instance, in Jim Wells County. According to Nelda Garcia, after the Driscoll Foundation put up high fences around its lands, the surrounding properties, which bordered with the Driscoll Foundation's ranch, suffered a decrease in wildlife, especially deer. The decrease in wildlife caused economic hardship for the ranchers who offered wildlife hunting leases. As a result, Hispanic and Anglo stockraisers banded together in 1997 and formed a wildlife association to promote scientific management practices on their lands to increase wildlife. Within a period of about five years, the deer population stabilized, and good hunting will be possible again, ensuring an additional source of income for the members of the wildlife association. There are a few other wildlife associations, with an active one in northwestern Jim Hogg County organized in 1996. It includes both Hispanic and Anglo producers and covers about thirty thousand acres.27 Since the 1960s wealthier professionals, such as attorneys, doctors, and businessmen who live in the region as well as a few others from major cities in the state are investing in land, primarily rangelands, for multipurpose uses. A few actively engage in raising livestock on newly acquired lands but most seek recreational use and investment returns. Some individuals purchase small tracts of land for use as ranchettes. With regard to conservation practices, the most important development is the purchase of lands for recreational uses, especially hunting. As an example, in 1998 Juan M. Campos, a family medicine practitioner in McAllen, and three of his brothers purchased 442 acres in Starr County as an investment and for use by family members for hunting, fishing, and holiday outings. The ranch includes 153 acres, seeded and leased for grazing. They hope to sell hunting leases. Conservationists and producers in South Texas confirm that this is a growing trend today, as local professionals and businessmen prefer these lands due to the

proximity of their ranches to their homes. According to D. V. Guerra Jr., some of the lands being purchased are good grazing lands but most of them are range lands. He believes that, in all likelihood, these buyers may never become producers because it is economically unprofitable to raise a few head of cattle on rangelands. Based on his experience, he asserts that in South Texas it takes about five acres of irrigated pasturelands to raise one head of livestock, but at least twenty-five acres of rangeland are needed to raise one head of livestock. Therefore, it takes vast amounts of rangeland to raise livestock for profit. The continuously increasing prices of rangelands may deter most of these new "ranchers" from buying the amount of rangeland needed to profitably raise cattle. These new buyers do contact agencies such as the NRCS for advice, and they pay handsomely for improvements to promote wildlife conservation, an activity that is expensive yet valuable.28 Although the region is presently suffering from a prolonged drought, producers have not lost hope in the land. Their belief that they must be good stewards is evident in the number of cattle herds grazing today not only on native rangelands but also improved pastures. This practice has a historical basis and is considered sound range management practice.29 Early Hispanic conservation practices were largely voluntary and sporadic. The first regulations attempted to control the movement of herds to avoid disturbing the land and trails. A few attempts were made to prevent the depletion of livestock, primarily during the periods of drought. Nevertheless, a long history of sustained grazing was the chief factor in the eventual decline of the original grasslands. Brush replaced grasses, the soil compacted, wind and rain erosion increased as the cattle grazed grass down to the bare ground, and producers discontinued the use of fire to control the spread of undesirable woody and thorny brush. Since the 1940s Hispanic landholders and conservationists conserve and improve the quality of the lands in South Texas. Relying on the expertise of conservationists and extension scientists and support from the ASCS and the FSA, Hispanic agriculturists implement an array of new practices to conserve their soil and water resources. While cooperation by the SCS and the ASCS is critical to the efforts of implementing soil and water conservation practices, other agencies also assist the agricultural producers. The construction of Falcon Dam proved invaluable, not only to the farmers and citizens who depend on the water for irrigation and municipal consumption, but also to the ranchers who benefit from flood control. Conservationists in general describe the relationship with ASCS and the FSA as positive. Two trends in conservation movements appeared during the last twenty years. The purchase of small tracts and the recreational use of the lands in South Texas thereby produced much needed income to landholders, especially those who offer hunting leases. Landholders presently pursue this aspect of their stewardship of the land to a greater degree, and they actively organize wildlife associations to better manage the fragile wildlife habitat. The purchase of rangelands and improved pastures by urban professionals and businessmen is a recent development. Most experienced observers, however, believe that new landowners will limit land use to personal and recreational purposes, avoiding the expense of establishing new farming and ranching enterprises.

Conservation in South Texas constitutes a rich cultural heritage for Hispanics and an economic and social enterprise that is important to the region, the state, and the nation. Conservationists, extension agents, personnel from other governmental agencies, and support from ASCS and FSA helped to make this possible by serving one of the few remaining significant communities of Hispanic farmers and ranchers in the U.S., men and women who seek to improve their valuable soil and water resources in the grasslands and fertile fields of South Texas.
[Reference] NOTES 1. Armando C. Alonzo, Tejano Legacy: Rancheros and Settlers in South Texas, 1734- 1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998). See also V. W. Lehmann, Forgotten Legions: Sheep in the Rio Grande Plain of Texas (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1969). One report claims that there were 3,000,000 head of livestock in the Lower Valley towns in 1835. In 1900 the number of cattle in South Texas stood at 440,503 and the horse herds were still sizeable. The value of all livestock for that year was nearly $9,000,000. 2. Frank W. Judd, "Tamaulipan Biotic Province," in John W. Tunnel Jr. and Frank W. Judd, The Laguna Madre of Texas and Tamaulipas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 38-58; David D. Diamond, "Grasslands," in The New Handbook of Texas, 6 vols., ed. Ron Tyler, Austin, 1996, 3:287-88. For a survey of vegetation based on contemporary observers, see Jack M. Inglis, A History of Vegetation on The Rio Grande, Texas Department of Wildlife Department, Bulletin no. 45, Austin, 1964; Elmer H. Johnson, "Soils," The New Handbook of Texas, 5:1136-38. South Texas has a black earth soil called the Chernosem belt. Its composition contains a proper mix of chemicals to make it fertile. 3. Pete W. Jacoby Jr. and R. James Ansley, "Mesquite: Classification, Distribution, Ecology, and Control," in Noxious Range Weeds, ed. Lynn F. James et al. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), 364; Judd, "Tamaulipan Biotic Province," 44; Nancy L. Hilbun and Amy E. Koltermann, "Ranching Heritage," in The Laguna Madre, ed. Tunnel and Judd, 67. For a brief description and dating of the conversion of grasslands to woody and thorny brush, see C. J. Scifries and W. T. Hamilton, Prescribed Burning for Brushland Management: The South Texas Example (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1993), chs. 2, 3. See also "South Texas Wildlife Management South Texas Vegetation," http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ conserve/wildlife_management/southtx_plain/vegetation/html. 4. Alonzo, Tejano Legacy, 75-76; Jesus F. de la Teja, San Antonio De Bexar: A Community on New Spain's Northern Frontier (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), 108-12. On the use of fires to control undesired growth in coastal areas of colonial Mexico, see Terry G. Jordan, North American Cattle-Ranching Frontiers: Origins, Diffusion, and Differentiation (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993), 96, 138; Alonzo, Tejano Legacy; On King's artesian well, see Hilbun and Koltermann, "Ranching Heritage," 64. On the impact of Hispanic ranchers on the environment, Felix Saenz, personal interview, San Diego, Texas, July 12, 2001. Trained in plant sciences, Saenz joined the Soil Conservation Service [hereafter SCS] in 1971. Assigned to numerous offices in Texas, he is currently at the Benavides, Texas, office. Both of his grandparents were ranchers and his father operated a small dairy farm in Duval County. 5. On Anglos learning farming practices and nature of soil characteristics from Hispanics, Carrol A. Norquest Jr., personal communication, Nov. 26, 2003. Norquest's father, a native of Minnesota, arrived in the Lower Valley in 1922 and depended on Mexican workers to conduct farming activities. Norquest farmed cotton on two hundred acres. See also David M. Vigness and Mark Odintz, "Rio Grande Valley,"

in The New Handbook of Texas, 5:58889. By the mid-1920s, over four hundred thousand acres were irrigable, and the value of irrigation plants in Hidalgo and Cameron counties was nearly $13,000,000. Alonzo, "A History of Mexicans in Land Development and Commercial Agriculture in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, 1900-1930," MA thesis, University of Texas-Pan American, 1983. State law permitted the organization of irrigation districts in 1905. In 1917 additional authority was granted to these political entities, including the power to tax within the boundaries of the district. At this point, the districts became known as water improvement districts. Laurie E. Jasinski, "Irrigation Districts," 3:874, and Dick Smith, "Water Improvement District," 6:841, both found in The New Handbook of Texas; L. L. Hidinger, "The Drainage Situation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas," Washington, D.C., 1910 typescript, copy in South Texas Archives and Special Collections [hereafter STASC], Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Box 733, 3-6; W. N. Hall,"A Report on the Construction of Tile Drains on the Howard Farm near Brownsville, Texas," Jan. 1913, typescript, copy in STASC; Alonzo, "Commercial Agriculture." For a brief description of sharecroppers in the drylands district, see Alejos Salinas Jr., Que Hora Es? (What time is it?), privately printed, copy in author's possession, 1998. 6. Frederick R. Steiner, Soil Conservation in the United States: Policy and Planning (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), Tables 1 and 2, xvi-xxi, 5-10. Douglas Helms, "How SCS Came to be," Soil and Water Conservation News 6 (Apr. 1985), 3-4; Office of the General Counsel, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), SCS, Statutory Authorities for the Activities of the Soil Conservation Service, Washington, D.C., 1981, 1-2, 4; Meyers, "Soil Conservation Perspective," in 50 Years of Conservation, 3; Andy M. Kmetz, "The Beginning-Civilian Conservation Corps Activities," 5-7 in 50 Years of Conservation; Milton E. Mekelbury, "Partners in Conservation: The Conservation District Perspective," 7- 8, in 50 Years of Conservation. See also Dale D. Allen, "History of the USDA Soil Conservation Service," typescript, copy in the state office, Temple, Texas. The law is known as the Texas Soil Conservation Law of 1939. Trace Etienne-Gray, "Soil and Water Conservation," The New Handbook of Texas, 5:1138. 7. Steiner, Soil Conservation in the United States, 10-18. 8. Texas State Board of Soil and Water Conservation [hereafter State Board]. File no. 312, Temple, Texas. 9. For a brief description of how districts function in a federal system of government, see "Conservation Districts Getting to the Roots," in Readings in the History of the Soil Conservation Service, ed. Douglas Helms, Washington, D.C., USDA, SCS, Economics and Social Sciences Division, NHQ, 1992, 25-30. See also Steiner, Soil Conservation in the United States, 17-18. 10. SCS, Grassland Restoration: The Texas Brush Problems, Temple, USDA, SCS, 1964. Quotation is found in Willacy County SWCD no. 349, Program and Plan of Work, Raymondville, Texas, Nov. 15, 1976. 11. Noe Martinez, personal interview, Rios Community, Duval County, Texas, July 3, 2001. Martinez worked in the Duval County district from 1956-86. He operates a small ranch in Duval County. Loan officers had to be taught that large numbers of livestock did not necessarily mean the best stock. Large private Anglo ranchers adopted the same practices. Arturo Alonzo, personal interview, Uvalde, Texas, June 9, 2001. For over thirty years, Alonzo was a ranch manager and head of cattle operations for B. K. Johnson, a descendant of Richard King, who had a large ranch near Uvalde. The amounts spent on conservation programs in South Texas were provided by Juan M. Garcia, Texas State Farm Service Agency office, Aug. 29, 2003. He is the Agricultural Program Manager. Most Hispanic producers are small- and moderate-scale farmers and ranchers. Data for all producers in the Rio Grande Plains region

is summarized in United States Census of Agriculture, 1954, Vol. 3, Special Reports, part 9, Farmers and Farm Production in the United States, 11. See also USDA, Spanish-Surname Farm Operators in South Texas, Agricultural Economics Reports no. 162, Economic Research Service, Washington, D.C., 1969. More recent census data confirms this point. See "Agricultural Census, Texas Counties," at http://agcensus.mannlib. cornell.edu/. 12. Zaragoza Rodriguez Jr., interview, Zapata, Texas, June 2, 2001; Rafael Guerra, interview, McAllen, Texas, Nov. 5, 2000; D. V. Guerra Jr., interview, Edinburg, Texas, July 10, 2000 and July 14, 2001. For an example of progress at the county level using quantitative data of early years, see Angel Vela, "Report on Soil Conservation Work in Starr County," MA thesis, Texas College of Arts and Industries (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville, 1952), 84-86, 93. Producers and conservationists agree that farmers and ranchers wanted to see results from demonstrations as well as their neighbors' work. Antolin Gonzales Jr., interview, Harlingen, Texas, June 23, 2001. Gonzales served as a conservationist in various locations in South Texas from 1970 to June 2001. His last stint was in the Cameron County office at San Benito. He is a university graduate and comes from a sharecropper/farmer background. Martinez, interview; Evan J. Quiros, interview, Laredo, Texas, June 8, 2001, and Guillermo Benavides Jr., interview, Laredo, Texas, June 9, 2001; R. B. Davis and R. L. Spicer, "Status of the Practice of Brush Control in the Rio Grande Plain," Austin, 1965, 7-9; Jacoby and Ansley, "Mesquite: Classification," 368-73. 13. Omar J. Garza, interview, Rio Grande City, Texas, Nov. 3, 2000; Rodriguez Jr., interview; Rafael Guerra, interview; D. V. Guerra, Jr., interview. 14. Rodriguez Jr., interview; Evan J. Quiros, interview, Laredo, Texas, June 8, 2001. 15. Garza, interview; Saenz, interview. 16. Gonzales Jr., interview. On the role of Mexican workers preparing irrigable land, see Norquest Jr., personal communication. 17. Jacqueline E. Timm, "Rio Grande Flood Control," in The New Handbook of Texas, 5:587; Dick D. Heller Jr., "International Falcon Reservoir," in The New Handbook of Texas, 3:860-61. There is renewed interest in both countries to resolve Mexico's water debt to the U.S. See "New $80 Million Conservation Fund May Ease Border Dispute over Water," Dallas Morning News, Aug. 21, 2001; "President Fox to Discuss Water, Immigration with Texans," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Nov. 5, 2001. 18. Garza, interview. 19. Ibid. 20. Rafael Guerra, interview; Carlos Guerra, personal communication, July 3, 2000. Carlos Guerra is the eldest son of Rafael Guerra; his ranch is located about eighteen miles north of Edinburg. 21. Guerra Jr., interview, July 14, 2001. 22. Nelda Garcia, interview, La Bandera, Jim Wells County, Texas, July 12, 2001. 23. Alejandro Montemayor Jr., interview, San Jose Community, Duval County, Texas, July 19, 2001. 24. Uvaldo Salinas, interview, El Sauz, Texas, June 2, 2001; Salvador Salinas, interview, Temple, Texas, July 20, 2001, and personal communication, Dec. 8, 2003. 25. Villarreal, interview; Salvador Salinas, interview. 26. Monte Mucho Soil and Water Conservation District, Annual Report, Aug. 31, 1996, n.p., Aug. 21, 2000, n.p.; Saenz, interview; Alvaro Luna, personal communication, Laredo, Texas, June 13, 2001; Arturo Ibarra, personal communication, Rio Grande City, June 27, 2001; Erasmo Montemayor, personal interview, Hebbronville, Texas, July 3, 2001. All three are presently employees of the NRCS in South Texas. Luna is a technician; Ibarra and Montemayor are district conservationists. Zaragoza Rodriguez III,

personal communication, Nov. 26, 2003. Rodriguez III, is a range conservationist based in Zapata County. 27. Garcia, interview; Montemayor, interview. 28. Juan M. Campos, M.D., interview, Sharyland, Texas, July 14, 2001; Guerra Jr., interview, July 14, 2001. Salvador Salinas concurred with Guerra's assessment regarding the new "ranchers." Salvador Salinas, interview. 29. Saenz, interview; Montemayor, interview. See also Lehmann, Forgotten Legions, 137-40, 149-50.


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