Jan Minton’s ranch — the family operation she took over in Floyd County, Texas — had been “farmed to death,” she said, and two playas were in poor condition. Bill Johnson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, developed a restoration plan that involved silt removal, playa repair, and a native grass and forbs plant buffer around the playas’ margins.
This is Playa Country — a weekly look at the wildlife, wetlands and prairies of the western Great Plains, and the people who manage them — brought to you by Playa Lakes Joint Venture, an organization dedicated to conserving birds and bird habitat.
We’re talking about playa conservation and renovation this month, and we could title today’s story “Practice What You Preach.” Here’s why: A Canadian Texas woman, Jan Minton, goes to college… “I’m kind of a hydrology person. I graduated from A&M with a range degree in watershed management, and I’ve had some real good background and experience.”
Well, background and experience — that’s an understatement. For some years, Minton worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In Idaho, she advised landowners and producers on water projects. “Irrigators, surface water irrigators, so I had a little bit of a background of it.” Her work involved advising those irrigators on NRCS cost-share projects.
Then, one thing led to another. What’s that saying? “Then life happens?” Jan Minton found herself moving home to west Texas — to become a landowner and operator. “My mother deeded it over to me two years ago, she was 90…” deeded over the family ranch in Floyd County her great-grandfather had homesteaded.
“I really had no idea. I mean it’s one thing when you work for the NRCS, you give private landowners alternatives. You know, you have your Volkswagen version and then your Cadillac version of practices to implement in order to reach objectives. It was a whole other pack of dogs when the place was mine and I made the decisions, and everything was at risk.”
That ranch was a mess. Over the years it had been rented, and had been farmed to death. And Bill Johnson agrees with that observation. Johnson is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist at Canyon. “The land had been farmed for a long time; it had been farmed not with intention of doing harm to the playa wetlands or the wetlands and natural resources, but with intention of making a living. Wildlife resources and wetlands weren’t given high consideration at the time. That farm was pretty typical of many I work with.”
He helped Jan develop a plan. “Jan had approached me. She had two playas and she was interested in doing the right thing with them. So I worked with her and developed two things: the initial design for wetland restoration for her two playa wetlands and then a wildlife management plan for her property that encompassed all of her interests. In Jan’s case, she was interested in all birds.” All birds and indigenous forbs and grasses.
“I also helped her piece together funding to do the playa restoration projects.”
What about those playas, on Minton’s ranch? “These playas had been screwed up so badly that they aren’t doing their jobs.”
One of the playas had been trenched, and Bill Johnson says sediment had filled the playas. “One of the biggest threats to playas, in general, is sedimentation from farming. If there isn’t cover on that all the time, in the form of a grass or prairie cover, when you get heavy rains, you get erosion washing the plow-tilled soils downhill into the playa.”
One playa, the larger one, was renovated. The trench was filled in and sediment was hauled away, and they put in a large plant buffer. The buffer surrounding the smaller playa now is well-established and preventing sediment from reaching the playa, and has drawn wildlife to it. As for Jan Minton? She’s been farming now for two years.
“The only thing I’ve been able to grow so far is that buffer… because there was a drought, I think is what they called it last year, the worst ever.”
You’ve been listening to Playa Country, a weekly show about the wildlife, people and landscapes of the western Great Plains. This program is made possible by the Playa Lakes, and Rainwater Basin Joint Ventures, and Enel Green Power.
Original broadcast: November 2012