As a geologist, Bob Hixon appreciates his land with an understanding that change happens over countless years and good things come to those who wait. His family’s Estrella Ranch spans nearly 800 acres in Uvalde County and abounds with vibrant Texas Hill Country beauty.
The clear water of Blanco Creek courses through the land, carving deep canyons through rugged, forested hills. Rocky outcrops shade primeval ferns while at higher elevations, splendid oak groves ring wildflower-strewn meadows. Along the banks of the creek, ancient dinosaur footprints catch rainfall, serving as timeless reminders of the millennia of wind and water that have shaped the land. And interspersed throughout are fissures, sinkholes and draws that feed the Edwards Aquifer—a vast, underground network of rivers and springs that supplies water to nearly 2 million Texans—flowing silently deep beneath the limestone.
The property is special to Bob, his wife, Cassie, and their four children, and he began planning for its protection the moment he laid eyes on it.
“It’s an extraordinary, beautiful part of Texas and I want the land to stay intact well beyond my time here,” Bob says.
Nine years later, that wish came to fruition. It turned out he just needed a little help from his friends.
Bob had long considered placing Estrella Ranch under a conservation easement, a voluntary legal agreement that permanently protects the ecological features of a property by permanently restricting certain types of development. But while the ranch easily met the ecological criteria of a conservation easement, its smaller scale made finding a partner difficult. Fortunately, seven of Bob’s neighbors were also looking to protect their properties.
The group approached The Nature Conservancy, which since 2005 has been helping the city of San Antonio allocate funding from Prop.1, which raised $90 million for water protection. The Conservancy, with assistance from Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas, helped secure conservation easement partnerships between the city of San Antonio and the group of landowners that today protect a combined 5,100 acres of land—property that contains an incredible diversity of life and that contributes water for residents of San Antonio and the Hill Country.
In addition to the conservation easements, five of the landowners have joined forces to form a wildlife association, which will benefit common wildlife as well as the rare and endangered species found within the watershed. As part of that plan, those landowners—including Bob—are eradicating invasive plant species and seeding native grasses and forbs. Bob has also installed bird and bat nesting houses and has created alternative water sources for wildlife, such as liner tanks and “water guzzlers” that will help conserve creek water.
The group’s success is proof that conservation is within the power of every Texas landowner and that real, lasting results often take time and patience.
“There are a lot of independent spirits in this group, but we were all able to rally behind the common goal of protecting this amazing region,” Bob says.
That kind of cooperation and persistence are not only inspiring, they’re absolutely critical to protecting the natural resource in Texas, which by some estimates is more than 96 percent privately owned.
Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors.” But as Bob and the rest of the Blanco Creek landowners proved, when it comes to protecting the lands and waters of the state we call home, good neighbors make good Texans.March 16, 2011