Of all the numbers that inform our work, “96 percent” may be the most significant. That’s the percentage of Texas lands estimated to be privately owned. For comparison, in Alaska—the only state larger than Texas—barely 1 percent of the land is privately owned.
That percentage means private landowners are the key to lasting conservation. And that’s where conservation easements come in.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement in which landowners voluntarily limit the way their property may be used to protect the land’s ecological, productive or cultural features now and in the future. This agreement is negotiated between the landowner and the “holder” of the easement, which may be a qualified non-profit organization or a government entity.
The landowner retains legal title to the property and determines the types of land uses to continue and those to restrict. For example, a landowner may want to allow ranching or recreational activities to continue, but restrict subdivision and large-scale development.
Conservation easements remain in place on the land, and future owners of the property must abide by them. They may be donated or sold by the landowner to qualified easement holders.
For landowners, conservation easements can provide a measure of tax relief while simultaneously ensuring beloved lands remain untouched forever.
In Texas, The Nature Conservancy has more than 100 such agreements with private landowners throughout the state. From large-scale easements on more than 62,000 acres of land neighboring our Davis Mountains Preserve in West Texas and a 4,000-acre easement protecting San Antonio’s Edwards Aquifer to a 10,000-acre easement on a working cattle ranch in Uvalde, these agreements are critical to our conservation goals.
June 21, 2011