To Keep and Protect
State easement program allows for conservation of more working lands
By Katrina Huffstutler
About 12 years ago, the Texas Land Trends database came online and showed what many had long suspected — Texas’ working and agricultural lands were disappearing at an alarming rate.
The database, which was developed by the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources in cooperation with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and American Farmland Trust, got the attention of many agricultural leaders.
Blair Fitzsimons, CEO of Texas Agricultural Land Trust, says that’s when the industry started exploring a purchase of development rights program. She says these are state purchase of development rights programs where producers are paid to retire their development rights and keep the land in agricultural production. One legislator really got the ball rolling.
“Rep. Charlie Geren from Fort Worth really embraced this,” Fitzsimons says. “He comes from an ag background himself. He’s always been very supportive of the ag industry in Texas. He became the lead in the house and really helped kind of garner support for this. We went to the legislature in 2005, and with Charlie’s support got a bill passed that created the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program.”
Fitzsimons says that initially the program was housed in the General Land Office. However, without any money, it languished after a couple of years. It wasn’t until last year’s legislative session, when the program moved to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, that it was finally able to get a legislative appropriation with the support of Rep. Geren, Senators Lois Kolkhorst and Charles Perry, and the speaker’s office.
It’s a perfect fit.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website, “The Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program complements Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s mission to conserve natural resources by protecting working lands from fragmentation and development. The program maintains and enhances the ecological and agricultural productivity of these lands through agricultural conservation easements.”