Conservation Matters February 2015

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Meet IRNR associate director Brian Hays

By Sara Carney

Meet IRNR associate director Brian Hays

From Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service extension assistant to associate director of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR), Brian Hays has made a career of promoting natural resource stewardship.

Today, Hays works to ensure that IRNR is fulfilling its mission to reach out to and educate landowners about natural resources. To accomplish this, he helps with project management, collaborates with the institute’s partners and seeks funding opportunities for IRNR’s programs, he said.

After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s in rangeland ecology and management from Texas A&M University, Hays’ enthusiasm for land stewardship led him to AgriLife Extension.

In 1998, Hays joined the Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management Extension Program Unit, now the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, focusing on rangeland and watershed management. Three years later he began working on grassland restoration and upland game bird management in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences Extension Program Unit. And in 2006, Hays joined IRNR as an Extension program specialist.

Hays has helped guide and implement many of IRNR’s programs, including the Texas Conservation Plan for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, Recovery Credit System and the Prescribed Burn Alliance of Texas.

Through his Extension experience, Hays grew to appreciate the role that landowners play in conservation. “If you look at a state like Texas, which is 94 percent privately owned, you’ve got to be able to work with landowners to solve natural resource concerns,” he said.

Much of Hays’ work focuses on market-based conservation programs, which provide landowners with monetary or technical incentives to implement conservation practices. Market-based conservation answers the question, “How can you turn what a landowner may perceive as a liability into an asset?” he said.

While it may be a challenge to meet both the needs of the environment and landowners, Hays said that keeping landowners involved in the planning process of conservation efforts helps create a successful plan. The goal is to develop voluntary programs that benefit both landowners and natural resources, such as wildlife, he said.

“I get to attend a lot of meetings and conferences with our external stakeholders,” Hays said. “So, I can see where they’re having issues or where there are opportunities for us to develop Extension programs to help answer their questions.”

The newest IRNR project that Hays is looking forward to is the development of the Center for Private Land Stewardship, which will support research and provide technical and educational resources to private landowners. After months of collaborating with the East Foundation and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the three organizations to establish the center earlier this month. (See “IRNR joins partnership,” also in this issue of Conservation Matters.)

The center will support private land conservation and its benefits to water, air and wildlife, Hays said. “I think the center has a tremendous opportunity to become the go-to place for natural resource information.”

What Hays finds most rewarding about being associate director is how close it has kept him to his Extension roots, working with landowners and stakeholders to facilitate conservation. “I really enjoy educating landowners and providing them that information that will help them better manage their rangeland and wildlife resources,” he said.

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