- The percentage of private land in Texas is greater than in any other state, with privately-owned farms, ranches and forestlands accounting for 142.4 million acres, about 84% of the state. From coastal rice fields providing Whooping Crane habitat to Panhandle cattle ranches hosting the Lesser Prairie Chicken, these lands are the state’s richest source of biodiversity.
- Texas, which leads all other states in the loss of rural lands, now runs the risk of losing its heritage of successful private stewardship of natural resources. More than 2.1 million acres of agricultural lands were converted to other uses between 1997 and 2007.
- This loss has economic, social, and environmental consequences. It threatens Texas’ dominant position as a food producer, its sources of drinking water, and the privately-managed habitat upon which a $15.8 billion wildlife-recreation industry depends.
- Texas is the second-largest agricultural state in the United States, accounting for about 7 percent of the total U.S. agricultural income. The food, horticulture and fiber industry is the second-largest resource-based industry in the state, generating $100 billion a year for the economy. These dollars have a compounding positive effect for communities by supporting local businesses like implement dealers, veterinarian services, hardware and feed stores. Agricultural lands produce food and fiber, host diverse wildlife, and provide clean, abundant water. They support rural economies and a multi-billion outdoor recreation industry.
- Suburbanization and rural development play a role in the loss of rural lands, but perhaps the biggest threat to rural lands is fragmentation. As large properties are divided into smaller parcels, they can no longer support traditional farming, ranching and forestry and thus no longer support rural economies as they once did. Land fragmentation also leads to loss of open space, decline in wildlife habitat, water quality problems caused by erosion and run-off, and higher demand for county services in rural areas.
- Between 1997 and 2007, over 2.8 million acres of farms and ranches in the Trans Pecos, Edwards Plateau and South Texas alone were fragmented into mid-sized and smaller ownerships.
- In 2001, the Governor’s Task Force on Conservation concluded that fragmentation of large family-owned farms and ranches is the greatest factor contributing to loss of wildlife habitat. The 2003 Texas A&M/American Farmland Trust Texas Rural Land Trends study concurred that, “Land fragmentation is the single greatest threat to wildlife and the long-term viability of agriculture in Texas.”
- Agricultural lands in Texas require an average of 26 cents in public services (fire and police protection, roads, busing to area schools. etc.) for every dollar of property tax revenue generated. In comparison, rural residential development requires on average $1.16 in public services for every $1 received in taxes.
- Texas has a strong tradition of private lands stewardship, and the majority of conservation successes happen on private lands. Private landowners, who collectively own 23.47 million acres, have developed wildlife management plans with Texas Parks and Wildlife oversight. Texas has approximately 164 wildlife management associations organized around the state comprised of private landowners who cooperatively manage open spaces that includes wildlife habitat and agricultural operations. TPWD’s highly regarded Lone Star Land Steward Awards and popular Youth Hunting programs are also implemented on private lands in Texas. The Landowner Incentive Program is a federal/state landowner program providing funds for management and restoration on lands with endangered species habitat.
Texas A&M/American Farmland Trust, Texas Rural Land Trends, 2009, www.texaslandtrends.org
Texas Department of Agriculture, Press Room Texas Agriculture Facts, January 2009
The Economic Benefits of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Watching in Texas,” prepared by Southwick Associates for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Revised November 26, 2007, p v.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Natural Agenda” p. 29
American Farmland Trust, Cost of Community Service Studies for Bandera, Bexar and Hays Counties.