Landowner of the Year 2003 - Verline Chervenka


For his extra efforts towards wildlife habitat management, Verline Chervenka was named the 2003 Oklahoma  Landowner of the Year  by the Oklahoma  Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC). Chervenka was recognized for his outstanding contributions towards the enhancement of wildlife habitat that is benefiting a number of wildlife species.

For the past 15 years, Chervenka has farmed and ranched on 1,240 acres in Beckham County. He has a cow/calf operation set up on a rotational grazing program. His grazing rotation is designed to promote adequate ground nesting habitat for upland game species and to ensure a healthy native plant community. Chervenka’s property is located in a drought prone area and his grazing system provides him flexible grazing distribution during extended drought periods. Interior fencing was completed on the ranch averaging 40 feet from existing fence lines that were already in place. This is a very unique way of protecting native grasses to ensure adequate nesting cover is available during extended drought periods.

Chervenka still maintains approximately 95 acres of crop ground planted to a variety of forages beneficial for a variety of wildlife species. The crop fields are smaller in size and are protected from livestock grazing. The remainder of his cropland is planted to native grass, forbs, and legumes. Additionally, Chervenka was approved for the Conservation Reserve Program to obtain cost-share assistance for planting less productive acres to native grasses, forbs, and legumes. Herbicide spraying of weeds (forbs) is not an option for this landowner. Instead, Chervenka actually increases wildlife-friendly forbs by strip disking during the winter months. He also provides emergency food resources in the late winter months via wildlife feeders.

Given the drought prone nature of his area, Chervenka has also constructed emergency watering sources in times of high stress. For example, Chervenka hauls water to specific watering locations built in the ground for wildlife. These locations are away from watering facilities used by livestock. Chervenka has also ensured adequate water resources for wildlife around all of his windmills by letting the water overflow into a small earthen pit pond next to the stock tanks. The windmills are left to run year-round, even when livestock are rotated out of the pasture.

Chervenka’s property also contains the unique "shinnery oak" habitat which has been treated or removed in much of its native range. He knows the importance of this woody species for wildlife and manages his grazing program to conserve this species. He has also sculpted the brush plant community to enhance the amount of edge for wildlife species in his shinnery oak habitat.

Rio Grande turkeys are one of Chervenka’s favorite game species. To enhance his roosting sites, Chervenka has planted a variety of turkey-friendly hardwood tree species along a riparian area. One field border was also planted in a variety of hardwood tree species for additional cover and food resources.

Additionally, Chervenka has addressed a significant problem associated with turkey roost habitat throughout western Oklahoma. The spread of Eastern red cedar (ERC) is a critical problem for not only turkey roosts, but also loss of quality grazing acres. ERC infestation also results in the elimination of native wildlife vegetation that benefits many other species in addition to wild turkeys. If left alone, this invasive tree species will eventually out compete native tree species. ERC that isn’t removed or subjected to prescribed burning will eventually grow up into the cottonwood tree canopy. When the roost tree canopy becomes choked with cedar trees, turkeys will likely move on to better sites if they are available. Chervenka has removed the cedars in and around his existing roost areas. Additionally, a fence was built to protect some of these riparian zones from cattle grazing. Chervenka obtained cost-share assistance for these projects through the ODWC’s "Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program."

Yet another major project that Chervenka has accomplished on his property is the establishment of an 18- acre wetland area. Through cost-share construction assistance provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s "Partners for Fish and Wildlife program,” Chervenka’s wetland provides quality habitat for a variety of  migrating waterfowl and shore birds. He lowers the water level in the spring to stimulate the growth of moist soil plants, such as barnyard grass and smartweed. The plants then mature and produce seeds in late summer. This vegetation is then flooded in the fall to provide prime food resources for migrating waterfowl.

Economics will always dictate the amount of resources a landowner can use to manage his or her property. Chervenka has used several cost-share programs to not only enhance his property for wildlife, but also livestock production. He consistently works with a number of agencies to obtain technical assistance and at times financial assistance for his management practices. However, long before current programs were established, Chervenka has implemented wildlife habitat projects on his own. Through his stewardship,

Chervenka is reaping the rewards of his habitat programs. In the past few years, bobwhite quail numbers have stabilized and Rio Grande turkey numbers have increased. White-tailed deer are also doing extremely well and the property has produced some quality bucks in recent years. Overall, Chervenka feels that his habitat improvements will contribute to the bigger habitat picture and wildlife populations have responded by using his property on a year-round basis.
Equally impressive is the fact that Chervenka is willing to share his experiences and successes with others. He has also involved his children and grandchildren in his wildlife management activities. Chervenka believes it’s important to expose young people to the concept of natural resources management. Oklahoma’s land and wildlife resources will be enriched for future generations through the outstanding stewardship by landowners like Verline Chervenka.