Landowners honored for improving wildlife habitat

FRANKFORT, Ky. – As it works to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife resources across the state, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources doesn’t do it alone.

Private landowners, businesses and other groups are key players.

“They are critical to us being able to manage the state’s resources,” said Dan Figert, assistant wildlife division director for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We see them as vital partners.”

The Habitat Improvement Program aims to improve wildlife habitat across Kentucky. Administered by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife since its inception in the late 1980s, the program helps landowners and groups develop management plans on properties of 25 acres or more. Technical support and some financial assistance also are available through the program.

Each fall, the department recognizes a handful of these conservation heroes. Landowners from five regions, two business conservation partners and a conservationist of the year were honored Dec. 1 at the Salato Wildlife Education Center.

Those receiving awards for 2016 were:

Statewide and Purchase Region Landowner of the Year

Dewaine Lowe

Lowe manages 783 acres in McCracken and Ballard counties for small game, deer, wild turkey, waterfowl and doves and exemplifies what can be accomplished with hard work, financial investment and being open to technical guidance from wildlife biologists. His relationship with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife spans almost two decades. Much of the habitat work completed on his three properties has focused on waterfowl. Improvements include installing 22 water control structures to impound 190 acres, installing and maintaining 85 wood duck boxes and enrolling 165 acres in the Wetland Reserve Program. “When you step back and look at all of the work that he’s done, it’s impressive,” Figert said.

2016 Green River Region Landowner of the Year

Jeffrey Kartheiser

Kartheiser manages 137 acres in Barren County for deer, wild turkey, bobwhite quail, songbirds and amphibians but in a way that complements adjacent neighbors enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) as well as Mammoth Cave National Park, located just a half-mile away. Considerable attention has been paid to improving forested areas; everything from 59 acres of forest stand improvement to releasing oak seedlings. In the coming year, Kartheiser plans to establish native warm season grasses and forbs for the benefit of wildlife.

2016 Bluegrass Region Landowner of the Year

Lyster family

Wayne and Muffy Lyster along with sons Bryan Lyster and Gray Lyster received the Bluegrass Region landowner award for habitat improvement work on their 700-acre Southwood Farm in Woodford County. The family has cleared 93 acres of invasive bush honeysuckle and converted more than 100 acres of fescue to native warm season grasses. Other improvements included stocking and maintaining three farm ponds for fishing. The Lysters encourage hunting and fishing with family and friends and youths on the property and this past November offered to host a Wounded Warrior deer hunt for two veterans.

2016 Northeast Region Landowner of the Year

Jason Gevedon and Will Noble

Gevedon and Noble show what can happen when two landowners team up to improve habitat. They manage a combined 193 acres in Morgan County for all wildlife species, including pollinators. Together, Gevedon and Noble have improved 77 acres of forest, undertaken efforts to manage brush on 134 acres and control weeds on another 40. Both have promoted this work among friends, family and co-workers, which has led to further work in their community.

2016 Southeast Region Landowner of the Year

Campbellsville University’s Clay Hill Memorial Forest

Clay Hill Memorial Forest in Taylor County is a hub of environmental and forestry education and research. Hundreds of teachers and tens of thousands of students from across Kentucky have attended its conservation workshops, and 75 high school students have been able to participate in a “Day with a Scientist at Clay Hill Memorial Forest.” Additional outreach includes demonstrations of prescribed burns and teaching local landowners how to use a tree planter through a hands-on tree planting demonstration and workshop. The forest’s 318 acres are managed for a diversity of wildlife species.

2016 Statewide and Bluegrass Region Business Conservation Partner of the Year

Parklands of Floyds Fork, Jefferson County

More than 1 million people have visited the Parklands of Floyds Fork this year. The donor-supported park system in Jefferson County provides visitors an up-close look at habitat improvement on a large scale. About 80 percent of its almost 4,000 acres has been preserved or enhanced for wildlife habitat. Improvements include the planting of more than 60,000 trees, removing bush honeysuckle from 192 acres and restoring more than 7 miles of stream banks. “There’s probably no place else in the state doing wildlife work that is able to touch so many people,” Figert said. “What a great partner.”

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife also honored DDP Land Investments as the Business Conservation Partner of the Year for the Purchase Region. The privately-owned company bought 550 acres in Livingston County and since has removed 110 acres of pine. Populations of game and non-game species on the property have responded to the improved habitat. The property is managed for deer, turkey, bobwhite quail and other wildlife. The company has worked with neighboring landowners to follow Quality Deer Management Association strategies and hosted deer hunts for Wounded Warriors as well as disabled hunters.

2016 Statewide Conservationist of the Year

Billy Finkbeiner

This award recognizes a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist who possesses a strong ability to positively influence the landscape of wildlife management, and is truly dedicated to the cause of improving wildlife habitat. Billy Finkbeiner has served as a district conservationist for the NRCS for almost three decades covering various counties across south central Kentucky. Finkbeiner promotes wildlife habitat to farmers and has worked closely with wildlife biologists from Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to get wildlife habitat on the ground utilizing sound conservation planning and the appropriate USDA conservation programs.