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Landscapes, Special Wildlife Edition 2007

Ranching Naturally

How one rancher restored his land to the way Mother Nature intended

Dr. Rickey Fain

Photo by Jim Lincoln

Dr. Rickey Fain purchased the Quail Ridge Ranch in 1992. Today, the ranch is open for hunts, but is also home to the largest population of black-capped vireos on privately owned land in Texas.

When Dr. Rickey Fain purchased the Quail Ridge Ranch near Glen Rose, Texas, in 1992, he would have been the first to tell you he wasn’t sure what he was doing. An outdoors enthusiast, Fain purchased the ranch with a deep desire to revert the land to the way it may have looked in the 1850s, before fencing and heavy grazing took their toll. But as a retired Dallas-area physician who lived in urban areas all his life, he had little ranching knowledge to fall back on.

"The best thing we did was tell some people we didn’t know what we were doing and that we needed some help," he says. "The amazing thing is how much help is out there; all you have to do is ask for it."

Fain’s humbleness and willingness to listen has paid off, not only for him but for the land and an endangered bird species, the black-capped vireo. By working with several state and federal wildlife and land agencies and implementing best land management practices, Fain has made Quail Ridge Ranch home to the largest population of black-capped vireos on privately owned land in the state.

Look but Don’t Touch

Although quick to admit that he wasn’t quite sure what to do with the property at first, looking back, Fain believes that pleading ignorant worked in his favor.

"The first thing you ought to do is just look," Fain says. "It takes a year or two just to figure out how the land responds — where the springs are, where the cold spots are, where the hot spots are. I think the biggest mistake you see people make is they buy a piece of property and start throwing money at it. You should just do nothing to begin with. It’ll come to you."

Improvements Attracted Endangered Bird Species

Gradually, Fain began making improvements to the land. He cleared out cedar that had left little room for grassland and re-established native grasses such as sideoats, bluestem and Indian grass. He also constructed a wetland area that brought in numerous wildlife species. In the midst of the improvements and restoration, Fain had created an ideal habitat for the black-capped vireo.

"Vireos like re-growth," Fain explains. "They liked our land and they showed up."
In the late 1990s, scientists were encouraged when they found two pairs of the bird in a two-week time period on the ranch and later found three black-capped vireo pairs during a single visit. Through partnerships with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Game, Environmental Defense and the National Resources Conservation Service, Quail Ridge Ranch’s black-capped vireo population has peaked and stayed at an estimated 29 to 31 nesting pairs.

Conservation Efforts: Not Just for the Birds

In addition to his efforts to aid the black-capped vireo population, Fain has several other wildlife and conservation management partnerships in place. He entered into a program with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to revitalize and manage the Texas horned lizard (popularly known as the horny toad) population, which has declined significantly in the past 30 years. This involved placing his land under a seven-year prescribed burning program. The result has been a decrease in fire ant numbers and an increase in the number of red ants, which like extremely hot climates and are the No. 1 food source for the horny toad.

lodge entrance

Photo by Sarah Harris

Fain is a huge advocate of wildlife associations and has been active in numerous ones across the state. He was also instrumental in setting up a local association near Glen Rose.

"Every landowner should belong to a wildlife group," Fain advises. "They give you a lot of bargaining power."

Lone Star Ag Credit Benefits Landowner

Another organization that Fain credits for providing help along the way is Lone Star Ag Credit. Not only does he find the loan officers easy to work with, but Fain is confident in their rural real estate expertise and appreciates Lone Star’s patronage program.

"My patronage check has been one to two months’ worth of payments," Fain says. "Also, for a commercial venture (like mine), they offer good loan rates."

Hunters and Visitors Welcome

Like many landowners, Fain has found it economically beneficial to diversify his operation with hunting. He leases the ranch out to four corporations and offers a variety of upland bird hunts. These include traditional walking quail hunts, walking pheasant hunts and European-style pheasant hunts.

interior of the lodge at Quail Ridge

Photo by Sarah Harris

The lodge at Quail Ridge is an inviting retreat for hunters, nature enthusiasts and party-goers alike.

To accommodate the hunters, he has made several improvements to the ranch property, constructing a party pavilion and a large guest lodge. The ranch is also open for family hunts, weekend weddings and other special events.

"The ranch of yesterday used to have a big sign on the gate saying ‘keep out,’" Fain says. "The ranch of today has to have a big sign that says ‘welcome.’"

Focused On Long-Term Goals

But Fain always has the best intentions for the land in mind. He stresses that in order to best care for it, he must be adaptable and not get too focused on long-term goals.

"You can make five- and 10-year plans, but each year you throw that plan out and make another one. The land responds, and you don’t always know what it’s going to do," he says. "You keep making those five- and 10-year plans, but you keep rewriting them."
For more information on Quail Ridge Ranch, visit www.quailridgeranch.com.

– Article by Sarah Harris
– Photos by
Jim Lincoln, Greg Lasley and Sarah Harris