Travis Audubon Announces 2019 Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Hero Chris Harte

AUSTIN, Texas– Travis Audubon announces the selection of the 2019 Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Hero.

Every year Travis Audubon honors an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to promoting environmental conservation, education, or advocacy. These heroes are recognized at our annual Conservation Award Luncheon, named after legendary birder and conservationist Victor Emanuel. The honorees are influential leaders who have inspired us to greater community involvement and environmental awareness through their work.

On behalf of the Board of Directors of Travis Audubon, we are pleased to announce that the 2019 Conservation Hero is Chris Harte of Austin, Texas. A retired newspaper publisher with a passion for native species restoration, Chris has worked to restore prairie and savannah at his ranch near Spicewood for more than 30 years.            

Harte grew up in San Angelo and Corpus Christi. He received a BA from Stanford and an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. Harte’s earliest environmental education came from his father Ed, who led local efforts to create Padre Island National Seashore in the 1960s and was chairman of The National Audubon Society. Harte was also influenced by Ned Fritz, whose Texas Committee on Natural Resources he served on in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  

In 1972, Harte and his brother convinced their father and uncle to buy 286 acres between state highway 71 and Lake Travis seven miles west of the Pedernales, just north of the old town of Spicewood. In 1984 Harte completed the purchase from other family members of what was by then about 500 acres. Since then he has purchased about 35 nearby and adjacent parcels to create a 1,300-acre restoration project.

Restoration expertise has been provided by his late wife, Kay Wagenknecht Harte, and David Mahler and his team from Environmental Survey Consulting. Kay began urging Harte to remove cattle from the ranch, begin burning and clearing brush mechanically where fire wasn’t safe, and high-fencing to keep deer numbers low enough that native flora could survive and, where it had been completely eradicated by sheep, goats, deer and overgrazing by cattle, re-introduced successfully.  Mahler and his team have carried on the program he and Kay developed since her death in 1997. Spicewood Ranch received the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s 2018 Lone Star Land Steward award for the Edward Plateau. The Hill Country Conservancy is working with Harte to develop a conservation easement application for the largest part of the ranch where the majority of intensive restoration efforts are taking place.

Harte worked at the Austin American-Statesman in the late 1970s and then at the Miami Herald in the mid-1980s before becoming a publisher of Knight-Ridder’s paper in State College, PA, The Centre Daily Times and a publisher of Akron Beacon Journal.  He was subsequently publisher of the Portland Press Herald in Maine and, most recently, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.   

Harte has served on a number of public and private corporate boards and on the boards of Outward Bound USA, the Austin Community Foundation, Austin Achieve Public Schools, and numerous other non-profit boards in each of the communities where he’s lived. He is a past chairman of the University of Texas Development Board and has been a member of other UT Austin advisory boards.

He has been very involved with Audubon chapters throughout the United States, including serving on the board of the National Audubon Society, on state Audubon boards in Texas and Maine, and on state boards of the Nature Conservancy in Texas, Florida, and Maine.

Harte’s accomplishments will be celebrated at the 2019 Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Luncheon on October 12, 2019 at the Austin Country Club. We hope you will join us for this wonderful celebration of Harte’s passion and dedication. Sponsorships are available and table sales open May 1st.

About Travis Audubon:

As an independent chapter of the National Audubon Society, Travis Audubon promotes the enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of native birds and their habitats through land conservation, habitat restoration and management, environmental education, and conservation advocacy. Travis Audubon manages four wildlife sanctuaries in the Austin area, including protected habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. Since 1952, Travis Audubon and its members have recognized the importance of protecting the ecological balance necessary for healthy, sustainable, and habitable communities, both for people and wildlife. Get involved and learn more at and follow on Facebook and Twitter @TravisAudubon, and Instagram @TravisAudubonSociety.

Judith Allen, Operations Coordinator
(512) 300-2473

Nicole Netherton, Executive Director
Travis Audubon
(512) 300-2473