The increasing pressure to sell land for urban development in response to Texas’s rapid population growth has justly raised concern for conservation issues. These issues include the fragmentation of ecologically crucial landscapes, which can lead to loss of wildlife habitat, interference with migration routes, decrease in plant diversity, and disruption of natural processes necessary for a healthy environment.
In Texas, we are faced with the unique challenge that over 95% of the land is privately owned, which means the task of protecting our natural resources falls primarily on private landowners. Texas Land Conservancy is a statewide land trust that works with landowners who want to find a way to ensure that the integrity and natural condition of their land is preserved forever. One primary tool for achieving this is called a conservation easement; a legal agreement where a landowner voluntarily agrees to restrict the type and amount of development that may take place on his/her property. Conservation easements are “perpetual,” that is, they last forever. The landowner continues to own the property and can sell, give, or lease the property as before. However, all future owners assume ownership of the property subject to the conditions of the easement held by the land trust.
Luckily, the state is also here to help landowners! Texas has set aside a budget specifically for conservation easements through the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program administered by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Private landowners are able to apply for this program which awards grants to permanently protect important lands. Properties can qualify for a grant according to several circumstances, notably the threat of development, fish and wildlife value, and contribution to a conservation landscape.
Texas Land Conservancy has experienced the effectiveness of this program firsthand through the recent protection of the Willow Glen Plantation in the Columbia Bottomlands along the southeast Texas coast. The Columbia Bottomlands are home to several important species of plants and animals, but this land and its native species are threatened by development. In 2016, the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program played a major role in ensuring 3,000 acres of Columbia Bottomlands were preserved forever. As a result of this conservation easement, the variety of wildlife and the area’s rich plant diversity now thrive without disturbance.
The amount of protected land will continue to grow significantly as more landowners commit to protecting essential habitats from development with a conservation easement. The opportunity for landowners to conserve their land for environmental protection can uphold the prioritization of conservation, allow magnificent wildlife to flourish, and defend Texas’s striking landscapes.
Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program through the Texas Parks and Wildlife is a great tool, and we hope you will help spread the word so more landowners will know it’s an available resource. For all you landowners reading this, if you are interested in protecting your land, contact TLC today!