The Dixon Water Foundation’s mission is promoting healthy watersheds through sustainable land management to ensure the availability of water now and in the future. Adaptive, rotational grazing is one of the primary management tools the Foundation uses on its four ranches, located in West and North Texas.
“We believe that agriculture is an important part of the conservation equation,” said Robert Potts, the Foundation’s president and CEO.
The Foundation’s Board of directors chose to prevent future development on the Dixon Water Foundation Ranch (DWFR) in Presidio County for both philosophical and practical reasons.
“We all depend on healthy lands and waters, even those people who live in the cities and don’t experience nature as directly as those who live in rural areas,” Potts said. “We have to be vigilant about the health our ecosystems.”
He continued, “We chose to enact a conservation easement because it seemed to be the best tool for maintaining private ownership and management, giving us the most flexibility to achieve our goals for the ranch now and our vision for the ranch in the future.”
With their eyes focused on the future, the Board used the conservation easement to protect the land and support the Foundation’s mission. Investing in the Foundation’s mission, the Board purchased the almost 8,000-acre Kennedy Ranch, which was larger than the Foundation needed for its primary purpose of protecting 1,500 acres adjoining Alamito Creek. Then, the Foundation enacted a conservation easement over the entire ranch. In the process, the Foundation identified the portions of the ranch most critical for its research and education missions.
To help fund the project, the Board negotiated the right to sell three parcels of approximately 1,000 – 4,000 acres each, which were not critical to the Foundation’s mission, but important to the regional ecosystem. These parcels, which are large enough to protect the area’s ecological integrity, are subject to the provisions of the Foundation’s conservation easement. To date, one has been sold to conservation-minded buyers, who bought with confidence knowing their ranch would never be encroached on by neighboring development.
“We could’ve purchased stocks and bonds much more easily, but we invested in conservation,” Potts said. “We realized that if we removed the development rights, we wouldn’t have to own the land to protect it. By working with a conservation easement, TALT and conservation-minded buyers, we came up with a solution that is better for everyone.”
The DWFR, located south of Marfa, is both a working ranch and the site of on-going research. As such, he Foundation is investing both time and money in research-based restoration, mitigating the effects of long-term overgrazing. The conservation easement ensured the investment would be protected in the long-term, he said.
“The DWFR is located downstream from another Foundation ranch that we own and manage for sustainable livestock production,” Potts said. “Enacting a conservation easement on this ranch complemented our other management efforts in the region.”
The presence of Alamito Creek, a vital water course that feeds the Rio Grande, is one of the ranch’s primary ecological attributes.
“Alamito Creek is wonderful example of a desert stream,” he said. “Its banks are lined with cottonwood and willow forests, looking, as I’m told, like all streams did in West Texas at one time. There aren’t that many streams like this anymore, so we wanted to see it continue. Alamito Creek is not completely unique, but it is special.”
Water in a dry environment ensures life and diversity. Evidence, including grinding holes along the bluffs of Matonosa Creek, indicates that hunter-gatherers were present on the ranch as early as 11,000 B.C. Plant surveys have catalogued more than 225 species of vegetation. In addition to all of the indigenous West Texas wildlife such as desert mule deer, scaled quail and Mexican black bear, the creek and its tree-lined banks attracts migratory birds including warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanager and buntings as well as federally listed mountain plovers and Golden Eagles. Peregrine falcons also frequent the area.
The DWFR also is home to unique geologic features that add to the scenery experienced by travelers to the region. In fact, 3,989 acres of this property can be seen from Ranch Road 169. Because of significant highway frontage, the DWFR is particularly susceptible to the forces of fragmentation that are escalating in the Trans-Pecos, making a conservation easement an appealing option.
“A conservation easement is not the right tool for everyone or for every situation, but, under the right circumstances, it is extremely useful,” Potts said. “A conservation easement is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it does many things well. In our case, a conservation easement held by TALT offered the best balance of conservation and agriculture.”