Texas Land Conservancy recently completed the permanent protection of 396 acres in the Hill Country. The newly protected Los Madrones Ranch is a beautiful landscape of limestone bluffs, open pastures, and diverse woodlands located in Travis County along Hamilton Pool Road. The ranch has been in the same family for the last 40 years and is home not only to the Murphy family, but also to seven pairs of Golden-cheeked warblers.
The Road to Conservation
Texas Land Conservancy began working with the Murphy family in 2012. The family wanted to put a conservation easement on their property in an effort to make sure their land was protected forever from the pressures of development.
“My father acquired the 800-acre ranch which the family ran as a cow/calf business up until 1996 when my two brothers opted to sell part of the property. My wife, Julie, and I wound up with our family home and 400 acres, and in 2000 we converted the ranch to wildlife conservation. We have really enjoyed seeing how the ranch vegetation has changed without cattle and appreciate the abundance of birds and other wildlife that thrive within,” said Mike Murphy, owner of Los Madrones Ranch.
TLC worked with Mike and Julie to apply for a conservation easement through a Travis County program that is set up to help landowners protect their land from development. Conservation easements allow Travis County to retain open space and protect natural and cultural resources. Once the easement was approved in 2013, TLC applied for matching funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This funding was approved in 2016, and the project was finalized in late February 2018!
From Cattle Ranch to Conserved Wildlife Habitat
This property may have started out as a cattle ranch, but Mike and Julie have turned their focus to wildlife. Unlike much of the expanding Austin area, which is rapidly transitioning into housing subdivisions and commercial development, Los Madrones Ranch will remain natural and serve as a haven for Texas plants and animal life forever.
Over seventy species of bird have been observed at the ranch over the past decade of conducting bird surveys, and at least seven pairs of the endangered Gold-cheeked warbler nest on the property every spring.
There have also been a number of other critters seen on the ranch, including armadillos, bobcats, gray and red foxes, coyotes, porcupines, white-tailed deer, ring-tailed cats, opossum, and random exotics like elk, axis and fallow deer, and aoudad—just to name a few.
Mike and Julie see their property as an educational opportunity, supporting photographers, birders, and folks who just want to experience the wonders of nature.
Los Madrones Ranch contains a large portion of Bee Creek, an important tributary of the Colorado River. The Colorado River flows right through Austin, providing the city with drinking water, recreational opportunities, and aesthetic beauty. In addition, Travis County is almost entirely within the Colorado River watershed, and the county’s water resources include not only the Colorado River, aquifers, springs, and lakes, but also the creeks, streams, and storm water drainage channels that flow to them.
Unfortunately, the replacement of native vegetation by impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, and rooftops has a negative impact on watersheds. Protection of properties within this watershed not only provides direct conservation of water, but it also enhances water quality and the integrity of aquatic life in the Colorado River and downstream for our neighbors to the east and the Texas coast.
This newly conserved landscape contributes to the integrity of the larger Hamilton Pool corridor just outside of Austin. Like the Murphy family, other private landowners have also made the commitment to protect their land against westward development by utilizing conservation easements (see TLC protected properties and other private protected properties on the map below). Together with Pedernales Falls State Park and neighboring preserves, protected by Travis County and the City of Austin, endangered species and water quality/quantity within the Colorado River watershed will be protected from encroaching development forever.
Los Madrones Ranch Adding to a Community of Conservation in Austin
TLC is excited to be a part of this conservation success. Protecting places like Los Madrones Ranch says something about who we are as Texans and what our values are. We believe in protecting our land and conserving our natural heritage not just today but forever. Families like the Murphy’s that have committed to conservation are living out these values and great examples of what it means to be a Texan.