Caesar Kleberg and the King Ranch: A Vision for Wildlife Conservation in Texas

Caesar Kleberg and the King Ranch: A Vision for Wildlife Conservation in Texas

Caesar Kleberg and the King Ranch: A Vision for Wildlife Conservation in Texas

Caesar Kleberg and the King Ranch: A Vision for Wildlife Conservation in Texas

Synopsis

In this tribute to a pioneer conservationist, Duane M. Leach celebrates the life of an exceptional ranch manager on a legendary Texas ranch, a visionary for wildlife and modern ranch management, and an extraordinarily dedicated and generous man.

Caesar Kleberg went to work on the King Ranch in 1900. For almost thirty years he oversaw the operations of the sprawling Norias division, a vast acreage in South Texas where he came to appreciate the importance of rangeland not only for cattle but also for wildlife.

Creating a wildlife management and conservation initiative far ahead of its time, Kleberg established strict hunting rules and a program of enlightened habitat restoration. Because of his efforts and foresight, by his death in 1946 there were more white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobwhite quail, javelinas, and mourning dove on the King Ranch than in the rest of the state.

Kleberg's legacy lives on at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville, where a research program he helped found has gained recognition far beyond the pastures of Norias.

Excerpt

Santa gertrudis and hunting have always been synonymous. However, lack of hunting regulations on the ranch and in the state saw a great decline of abundant game—that is, bobwhite quail, white-tailed deer, and Rio Grande turkeys, as well as other wildlife.

Alice Kleberg, along with her husband, Robert J. Kleberg Sr., and his nephew, Caesar, worked tirelessly to rectify this situation. On a visit to Rancho de Santa Gertrudis, then governor of Texas, Pat Neff (1921–1925), was approached about this dilemma and agreed to sign a bill to close hunting turkey hens in South Texas for ten years.

Caesar Kleberg began working at Rancho de Santa Gertrudis in 1900 and lived most of his life on the Norias Division of the ranch. By 1912, Caesar began practicing game conservation, which would impose limits on hunting: deer and turkey were to be hunted only with a rifle and shot in the head or neck; deer hunting would not be allowed once rut began; turkeys were not to be shot near a roost; bobwhites were not to be shot on covey rise, only as singles; quail hunting would cease once quail were going to roost in the afternoon; hunting was not permitted during dry periods around watering holes; and strict limits on harvest were imposed.

In 1879 the state legislature established the office of fish commissioner. in 1907, the legislature also gave the commissioner responsibility for hunting regulations and the name of the office was changed to Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission. Caesar was appointed in 1929 to the very first Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission and was instrumental in transforming the department by establishing hunting seasons and harvest limits, whereas the earlier commissioners had primarily focused on state waters but not on other forms of wildlife. Today the Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission is known as the Texas . . .

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