Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans.
JOHN STEINBECK, Travels with Charley
This summer I didn’t travel with Charley, but with my Labrador retriever, Max. For two days, we drove south from Sheridan County, Wyoming to Dimmit County, Texas – home to my family’s ranch. This annual trek reminds me of the vastness of the land around us…and the responsibility we have to conserve it for future generations.
On this trip in particular, it struck me – as Wyoming gave way to Colorado and New Mexico – that in spite of the beauty something was missing. Call it legend. Or lore or history. Or maybe it’s that sense Texans have that our state’s past and future are firmly tied to the land. Our roots run deep here in a way they don’t in other places. We claim kinship with Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and legends like Captain Richard King and Charles Goodnight, who created ranching empires from an untamed land. Whether we live in the city or the country, we connect with leaders like former Governor Dolph Briscoe, a rancher himself, who understood that land is what makes this state great.
As Texans, our past and our future is tied to the land. That’s why the Texas Ag Land Trust needs your help to conserve Texas’ land for future generations.
When I crossed the state line near Dalhart, I felt the thrill of being home, even though I had another 625 miles to go. My route took me by the site of the legendary XIT Ranch. In its heyday, it encompassed three million acres, making it the largest ranch in the world under a single fence. In 1879, cash-poor Texas sold the land that became the XIT to pay for the pink-granite capitol building, which still stands today.
As I drove by the XIT, it occurred to me that the ranch’s unique history underscores TALT’s philosophy: Land is one of Texas’ most valuable assets. While we may or may not own land ourselves, as Texans we depend on it for our food, fiber and water. And as Texans, we are indebted to the hard-working families who steward the lands that host our natural resources and provide our wide-open spaces.
As I skirted Palo Duro Canyon where Charles Goodnight established his ranching empire, I marveled at the magnitude of the sky – and the land. The rough and tumble canyon seemed to go on forever but in reality it – like much of Texas’ rural lands – is disappearing under the pressure of fragmentation and development.
For a moment, I reflected on how far TALT had come. In just nine years, our ag land trust has conserved over 226,000 acres, many of which surround the canyon. Quickly my thoughts turned to how we must do more. TALT’s accomplishment is a mere drop in the bucket compared to how big our challenge is: Texas is losing her agricultural lands and wide-open spaces at a faster rate than any other state.
The Panhandle’s fertile fields gave way to the arid scrub of the Rolling Plains. The horizon shimmered in the late summer heat, and the clear waters of the Llano River near Junction invited. But Max and I had miles to go. The road continued south toward Dolph Briscoe’s hometown of Uvalde through the Edwards Plateau where water filters through porous limestone to arrive eventually at faucets in Austin and San Antonio. Sadly, so few people understand that when we conserve land, we protect water. That’s why TALT’s public awareness campaign, No Land, No Water, is so important.
No Land, No Water! We need your help to continue communicating the need to conserve Texas’ rural lands – for the benefit of all Texans.
The sun was setting when Max and I finally pulled up to the front gate of our family ranch. While I hang my hat in San Antonio where TALT’s office is located, the ranch is home, the place where my husband and I raised our children. The ranch is the glue that binds us: It has shaped our values, challenged our endurance, and strengthened us as individuals.
Several years ago, the family memorialized our love of the land by placing a conservation easement on the ranch. From a personal perspective, I can tell you the agreement is much more than paperwork. It is about protecting our collective culture and heritage. It is about our past and future as Texans.
But our future as Texans is under siege. Less than one percent of the Texas population own the working farms and ranches that make up 84% of Texas land. As development and fragmentation threaten the wide open spaces and productive agricultural lands that I drove through this summer, it will be Texas’ farmers and ranchers who ensure a future of abundant clean water, scenic vistas and vibrant native wildlife.
At TALT, we strive to conserve the Texas heritage of agricultural lands, wildlife habitats and natural resources. This means advocating for policies and programs that advance the stewardship of the private lands that are so important to ALL Texans. Please consider a year-end gift to the Texas Ag Land Trust, and help us help the farmers and ranchers who are stewarding our future.
Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season to you and your family from all of us at TALT.
Blair C. Fitzsimons
P.S. As we finalize our plans for the coming year, please stand with us as one of our most committed leadership contributors and join our Founders’ Council.