Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council awards $1.8 million in grants

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AUSTIN — Last week, the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council approved over $1.8 million in funding for seven diverse projects spanning the Gulf Coast to the Red River, to the Piney Woods of East Texas, and the Texas Hill Country. The properties, which encompass over 16,000 acres of high-value working lands across Texas, will be permanently protected from development and fragmentation under a perpetual conservation easement each held by one of several land trusts operating in the state.

This year’s projects include land with a variety of uses, including longleaf pine forest and timber plantation, rotating crop organic farmland, and cattle ranches. The easements will protect working farm and ranch lands that also provide critical habitat for rare birds and other wildlife, valuable springs and waterways, and threatened plant communities.

Conservation easements are legally binding agreements that protect land by preventing certain types of development with environmental protection in mind. Landowners sell or donate easements to land trusts or public agencies for varying amounts of money, and the terms are negotiated individually, depending on the type of land and the resources it holds.

The Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program, or TFRLCP, selects easements to aid conservation on private working lands with valuable natural resources, such as water, fish and wildlife, and agricultural land. They also prioritize land threatened by encroaching development. Land trusts and other conservation organizations propose tracts of land, and the Council chooses projects to award the available funds, which are appropriated by the Texas legislature each biennium. Through these easements, the TFRLCP not only protects Texas working lands, but raises awareness among landowners and paves the way for more conservation actions.

"On behalf of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council, I want to commend the Texas legislature for reaffirming the value of this program by appropriating $2 million for the coming biennium,” said Council chairman Reed Morian. “Our conservation partners have submitted a roster of truly outstanding projects for the Council’s consideration. While we were unable to fund all of the very worthwhile proposals, we are proud of our role in helping to conserve some of the very best of Texas’ working lands."

Below is more information about projects approved for conservation easement. The easements are permanent, regardless of whether the land changes hands in the future.

Spread Oaks Ranch: 5,320 acres in Matagorda County with 6 miles frontage on Colorado River. Spread Oaks Ranch is a diverse mosaic of farmland, pasture and wildlife habitats, with corn and soybeans being principle crops on 1,700 acres. Spread Oaks Ranch has tremendous water resource value, including 4.5 miles of Blue Creek, 1,000 acres of wetlands and significant coastal hardwood forests. TFRLCP award: $145,000. Submitted by Katy Prairie Conservancy.

Krause Ranch: 1,640 acres located in Real County. Krause Ranch is a working cattle operation and includes springs and headwaters of the Frio River, karst features, rare plants and listed birds TFRLCP award: $573,200. Submitted by The Nature Conservancy.

Collins Ranch: 614 acres located in Williamson County with 1.2 miles of the North Fork San Gabriel River. Approximately half of the ranch is improved pasture including some grain crops that support livestock operations. TFRLCP award: $30,000. Submitted by The Nature Conservancy.

Bartush Ranch: 1,620 acres in Cooke County, overlooking the Red River. Bartush Ranch focuses on habitat management and cattle operations, supported by small improved pastures. Rugged breaks protect app. 1,500 acres of mature and old growth cross timbers and some native prairie overlooking the Red River; black-capped vireo habitat. TFRLCP award: $395,500. Submitted by The Nature Conservancy.

Longleaf Ridge: 5,511 acres located in Jasper County. Longleaf Ridge consists of working forest and timber plantation, with significant riparian corridors and sensitive habitats which are protected from silviculture and which conserve rare plants and plant communities. TFRLCP award: $400,000. Submitted by Texas A&M Forest Service.

Inspiring Oaks: 1,000 acres located in Hays County. Inspiring Oaks conserves a significant mosaic of Hill Country woodlands, savannah and grassland and an important reach of Wanslow Creek. The current management focus is on the restoration of fish and wildlife habitat. TFRLCP award: $200,000. Submitted by Hill Country Conservancy.

Spoonbill Farms: 304 acres located in Matagorda County. Spoonbill Farms contains farmland including hay pasture and rotating organic crop production. Crop rotation includes fallow periods in wet soil units heavily used by wading birds and waterfowl; 192 acres of mature coastal live oak forest; adjacent to 175-acre conservation easement. TFRLCP award: $57,000. Submitted by Texas R.I.C.E.