The George Mitchell family’s Cook’s Branch Conservancy, which consists of 5,650 acres in southeastern Texas, has been managed for nearly 50 years under a family tradition of conservation and sustainability.
In the spirit of Aldo Leopold, the Mitchell family’s hard work and dedication to conservation restored their land back to health and sustainability. This goal led to the Mitchell family’s decision to discontinue commercial agricultural operations at Cook’s Branch Conservancy in 2000 to minimize typical human impacts on the landscape. Income derived from resource management activities, including timber harvesting, hay production, and the sale of selected remaining exotic deer, are used to offset management and operation costs on the property.
Land management is a fluid concept on Cook’s Branch Conservancy in that plans are changed every three years based on current environmental conditions. This allows for adaptation to changing conditions and provides documented responses to management activities for future reference. Some of the Mitchell family’s conservation practices include continuous timber monitoring, selective thinning to ensure un-even aged pine-dominated upland forest, while creating a healthy representation of sub-dominant tree species, and prescribed burning to rid the property of unwanted growth.
“This commitment to forgo financial benefit and dedicate a sizeable tract of private land in one of the fastest growing areas in the state exclusive to habitat and wildlife conservation demonstrates a land ethic seldom seen in twenty-first century Texas,” wrote Dan Jones, wildlife biologist, in his letter of recommendation. “This, I believe, is the embodiment of citizen stewardship as envisioned by Leopold and uniquely qualifies the Mitchell family and Cook’s Branch Conservancy for recognition of their efforts and success.”