Are wildlife and water replacing oil and cattle in Texas?
Frates Seeligson is one of many ranchers contending with an historic drought in the hard heart of Texas. You can see a report on the situation by myself and photographer Jessica Rinaldi here.
Seeligson, an affable fourth-generation rancher who farms to the east of San Antonio in an area currently suffering from what has been dubbed “exceptional” drought conditions, told me that “there are only so many ways that you can make money from dirt.”
In Texas, much of the money from dirt has come from two commodities that have iconic status in this rough and tumble state: oil and cattle.
But like many Texas cattlemen, Seeligson is also finding money in white-tailed deer and leases his ranch to hunters.
Some Texas farming operations have gone completely over to hunting. Some mix cattle farming with hunts for “exotic” species from Asia or Africa; some focus on bird hunting.
I saw it first-hand on a south Texas ranch where I went turkey hunting last April. The farmer there also had cattle, exotic Asian deer for hunting, and did regular quail hunts with raised birds released on his property.
I’ve also seen it at work in South Africa, where “game farming” is a huge and growing business.
In the lease situations in Texas, the hunters themselves put out supplemental feed for the game and the rancher works with biologists to see how many deer can be sustainably taken from the land.
The vast majority of Texas land is in private hands, so the opportunities for hunting on public lands is much more limited than in most other states or in Canada.
“The old paradigm in Texas was oil and cattle. Now it’s wildife and water,” Seeligson told me.
Some would argue that the supplemental feeding might inflate game numbers beyond what they should “naturally” be or even encourage some animals to roam where they don’t belong.
On the other hand, deer overall are probably less harmful to the environment than cattle. As a rule they probably use less water than cattle and don’t graze everything to the ground, unless there are too many in a small area.
Regardless of where one stands on the issue, the economy of rural Texas is changing, and there will be long-term environmental implications in all of this.
(Photo: Frates Seeligson inspects a dry river bed on his drought stricken Texas ranch. He supplements his cattle income by leasing his land to hunters as well. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi, March 4, 2009, USA)