2021: It was an historic year!

Published by Kirsti Harms on

A bright future for NPAT comes to life.

NPAT began the year after a very successful challenge match campaign in 2020. Thanks to the Dixon Water Foundation and many, many individual donors we were able to raise $90,000 to launch the North Texas Program. In April we hired Dr. Carly Aulicky as the North Texas Outreach and Stewardship Director. By now many of you have had a chance to meet her or catch a couple of her presentations. She comes to us via Kansas and her lesser prairie chicken conservation work. We are excited about her many skills and willingness to learn more!

While 2021 continued to present challenges for in-person events, our chapters adapted and we became better at virtual programming. These virtual presentations have the ability to reach a wider audience than our regular chapter meetings. But we still miss seeing each other in person. There is much value in that too. This fall the San Antonio Chapter began a hybrid format for their presentations. It may be the way of the future. Carly offered this format for her first landowner workshop as well.

The Fort Worth Chapter hosted Prairie Seekers in May.

Chapter Activities

We gained a new chapter in January—the Fayette Prairie Chapter. This chapter is focused on landowners, prairie restoration and management in this region of Texas. They hosted meetings on topics about the Fayette Prairie, soil carbon, and the resilience and grazing of prairies. To wrap up the year, they hosted a Prairie and Woodland Restoration Workshop in Weimar. It was a series of talks followed by a field trip to a local restoration property. There were about 40 attendees. There are plans for another workshop to be held this year.

The Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Blackland chapters all hosted Zoom meetings throughout the year covering topics like restoring the tallgrass prairie, white rosinweed, the Texas bison herd, the history of Texas horned lizards, birding basics, soils, erbal uses of native plants, and pollinators. The chapters were able to host long distance presenters like Chris Helzer of The Nature Conservancy and Joey Santori of “Crime Pays but Botany Doesn’t.” Many of these talks have been uploaded to NPAT’s YouTube site. Search for Native Prairies Association of Texas and NPAT Chapter Presentations.

The Prairie Seekers training program has been managed by Fort Worth chapter leaders for the last few years. Last May the group combined an online training session with a field day that included visits to private lands in the Whitesboro area. Carly Aulicky has joined this program and is working to take it statewide. It’s a citizen science program that helps participants recognize prairies, and the plants and animals in that ecosystem.

TPWD staff worked with volunteers to conduct a prescribed fire in February.

Our Members

Texas Parks and Wildlife worked with member landowners Nancy Webber and John Wilt to direct prescribed burns on their properties. Volunteers were encouraged to participate and learn about how to conduct a burn.

The Blackland Chapter members hosted trips to the historic Frankfort Prairie, Cedar Ridge Preserve and worked with the City of Dallas to maintain the prairies at White Rock Lake.

Houston Chapter members co-hosted the Prairie Stampede in December at the Houston Arboretum. This annual celebration provides an opportunity for the Houston prairie conservation community to share their stories and honor their champions. We hope to create more of these kinds of community celebrations in the future, they are so important for the success of our prairie mission. We won’t succeed alone!

Houston conservation groups also led the way in the City Nature Challenge once again. Prairie pride is making them leaders in urban nature.

Selena and Keith Schindler shared their SnK Wildlife Reserve with the NPAT board and Fayette Chapter members. Charlotte von Rosenberg also opened up her Quebe Prairie for a spring field trip.

An improved burrowing owl tunnel was developed on the Kirchoff Farm.

Our Landowners

We are blessed to have such dedicated and generous prairie landowners. They help us engage people with Texas prairies!

Kirchoff Family Farm: The Kirchoffs continue to offer an amazing number of educational opportunities for volunteers and researchers with their monthly workdays. Bexar Audubon has started collaborating with the family. They have hosted bird- and bio-blitzes, are conducting nestwatch studies and even held a bird box building day. They have developed a new type of burrowing owl tunnel that appears to be holding up to predators and encouraging owls to stay.

Creech Prairie: Robert and Melinda Creech are now hosting monthly volunteer days on their prairie. The opportunities to learn in Wilson County are growing!

Daphne Prairie: B.F. Hicks hosted a field day in June, during one of the loveliest times on this 922-acre prairie. It was also amazing to see how it has sprung back to life after a prescribed burn in late winter.

Ebel Ranch: Karl and Kelli Ebel host regular youth-oriented events on their prairie with hikes, bike rides and races. They also collaborate with Julie Mattox at her Northeast Texas Prairie Community Classroom, located on Julie’s from-dairy-to-prairie property.

Field trips resumed at Lawther-Deer Park Prairie this fall. These kids are doing the Attwater’s prairie chicken dance on the boardwalk.

Prairie Education

Della Barbato continued her programs despite the challenges of Covid, and then winter storm Uri. She provided virtual presentations to various groups. Four Virtually Wild! Texas programs were facilitated at Lawther-Deer Park Prairie. These were piped into classrooms, homes and hospitals for second- to- fifth graders. Small tours of the prairie started up in April. Thanks to Shell Oil and a Texas Parks and Wildlife Coop grants, Della was able to conduct teacher training sessions. The summer science camp had to be held virtually when the Delta variant hit. Later in the fall, she was able to return to student field trips on the prairie—the best way to engage youth with the prairie. We are hopeful that this year will allow more teachers and students to experience the prairie directly.

Carly Aulicky organized the Prairie Management and Restoration Tools workshop in November. It was held at the Dixon Water Foundation’s Clint Josey Pavilion near Decatur and included a virtual option. It featured talks on prairie restoration, prescribed burning, grazing and conservation easements. There was a panel discussion with three landowners–who by coincidence all had experience using 13 cows for management purposes. The afternoon included a tour on the Leo Ranch. Carly also received a Land Trust Alliance grant to help conduct ecological monitoring on the restoration at the Dowell Ranch. She continues to set up iNaturalist projects on NPAT properties.

Jeff Sargent also helps out with Blackland Chapter events. This is from a workday at White Rock Lake.

Growing NPAT

With all this expansion at NPAT, the board was ready to hire a Development Director. Jeff Sargent started as a contractor and was hired on as staff in July. He has made a big difference in our fundraising and outreach. NPAT cannot continue to grow without the resources to go with it.

Jeff spearheaded our membership drive in June and then moved right into Party for the Prairie, a benefit for our Deer Park Prairie Education Program. Due to the Delta variant, we had to drop plans for an in-person event and quickly pivot to an online one. Jeff led the way for our first virtual fundraiser, including a big-ticket raffle for a Kubota, and generous donors responded by contributing $45,570.

Jeff also carried us through North Texas Giving Day, Giving Tuesday, and secured new corporate grants from the HDR Foundation and Reliant Energy. We finished strong with our year-end fundraising appeal, bringing in over $79,000 from our incredible members and donors. We have now launched a new Big Bluestem Circle of leadership givers. Jeff is helping us grow!

Carly Aulicky visited Paul Mathews Prairie in August, five months after the burn.

Our Lands

Dowell Ranch: Our newest acquisition is a 150-acre former ranch in the Austin area. It was donated to NPAT by the Caroline Dowell Estate. The City of Austin Wildlands department holds the conservation easement. We already have plans for restoration on three of the pastures. The soils are a mix of Blackland and Hill Country. One of the main goals with this property is to provide education as we conduct restoration. The ranch house now serves as our main office. Come by for a visit sometime!

Paul Mathews Prairie: On April 8, we were finally able to conduct a prescribed burn on this 100-acre Blackland Prairie remnant. It was held as a wildland fire training exercise for area firefighters. Carly Aulicky has taken on the project of documenting the changes since the burn with monthly monitoring visits. It has been amazing to see how the prairie sprang back from being charred in April.

Lawther-Deer Park Prairie: Thanks to the dedicated work of our monthly volunteers, led by Charles Barfield, we have been able to complete the first phase of a boardwalk into the prairie. This allows visitors of all physical abilities to get into the prairie. Della notes that kids who would never walk into a tallgrass prairie are now able to get right into it. Thanks to the Houston Chapter, we were able to hire a local contractor to shred 43 acres of the prairie. This helped knock back some of the brush and makes it easier for us to get into the interior to treat encroaching tallow and other invading brush. We will be continuing the brush treatments in 2022 as well as extending the boardwalk a bit farther into the prairie.

Talbot Brothers Preserve: We hosted a workday at the prairie in February. We added bluebird boxes that are being monitored by local master naturalists. Winter storm Uri caused many casualties in these birds. We hope to help them with a comeback. In November, Carly and Brandon Belcher of The Nature Conservancy hosted a Red River Master Naturalists training at the preserve. This inspired a new group of volunteers to come out to help. We want to keep that momentum going!

Maddin Prairie: I continue to make regular visits to this West Texas property to manage our wildlife water. In July, Carly and Meghan Cassidy hosted Moth Night there, which laid the groundwork for an iNaturalist event in August. A group of about 13 naturalists documented thousands of observations on the property, including a rich diversity of moth species.

With your help we can make 2022 an even brighter year. See you on the prairie!

With gratitude,
Kirsti Harms, Executive Director

Categories: JournalPrairie News