Texas is losing land at an unsustainable rate. According to the Natural Resources Institute at Texas A&M University, more than one million acres of working lands – our farms, ranches and forests – are being lost every five years to development and fragmentation. This loss is due in part to our growing population, which places increased demand on open spaces and drives up land values across the state.
Protecting our working lands is critical for both people and wildlife. In addition to supporting rural economies, working lands across the state recharge our aquifers, mitigate flooding, sequester carbon, and filter pollutants from the air and water, while providing critical habitat for our most iconic and threatened species.
Conservation easements, voluntary legal agreements whereby a landowner limits development rights on their property to protect its ecological values, can help prevent the loss of working lands while providing a tax incentive that can help farmers and ranchers stay on their land. This can be a particularly valuable tool for landowners of limited means, and those traditionally excluded from public agricultural assistance programs.
However, there are financial barriers to participating in conservation easements. Landowners can incur an average of $40,000 to $80,000 for expenses such as surveys, title work, appraisals and legal fees to negotiate a single conservation easement – a proposition that is out of reach for many farmers and ranchers.
To address this need, the Texas Agricultural Land Trust established a fund to support easement transaction fees for historically underserved landowners – farmers and ranchers of color, veterans, first-generation landowners and those of limited means. In 2022, the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation awarded a grant to seed this fund, the first of its kind in Texas. According to Chad Ellis, CEO of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, “Too often, a landowner’s generosity is stifled by the high cost of conservation easement transactions. As we help to lessen these financial barriers, we ensure access to important conservation tools that protect our environment and natural resources right here in Texas. We are grateful for the lasting impact and equity this transaction fund will bring to landowners and Texans alike.”