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Land Conservation: A gift that keeps giving

The Hill Country Steward
By Central Texas Conservation Partnership

The holiday season is a great time to appreciate the bounty of thoughtful land stewardship and its benefits beyond private landowners into our Hill Country communities. Landowners practicing good stewardship enhance water quality and quantity, mitigate floods and drought, support agricultural productivity, and improve wildlife habitat. As the population of Texas grows, the demand for development in the Hill Country is ever-increasing – making land stewardship an even more important gift.

For a growing number of private landowners, conservation easements are another way to ensure land is permanently protected for future generations. A conservation easement is an agreement between a private landowner and a charitable organization that limits or restricts future development of the land, preserving its natural and historic character. Conservation easements can be donated or sold and aim to keep land in private hands while maintaining it mostly in its current condition. 

The conservation easement holder is usually a land trust – a private, nonprofit organization that holds interests in property. Several land trust organizations operate in Central Texas, including the Hill Country Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy in Texas, the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, and the Texas Land Conservancy. For land trusts, conservation easements are a way to protect land from development that doesn’t require outright purchase and allows private owners to continue to use and enjoy their property. Land trusts are responsible for ensuring that future landowners follow the easement terms and that the donor’s wishes are respected. Easement terms are as varied as the land itself – tailored to fit landowners’ wishes and the specifics of each property.

Most conservation easements are perpetual, remaining in effect when a property is sold or passed on to heirs. For many owners this brings peace of mind, as the easement ensures that their vision for the land will continue, preserving the time and money they have invested in restoring and improving it and ultimately, carrying on a legacy of conservation.

Conserved lands benefit both landowners and the general public. Conveying a conservation easement to a nonprofit organization is a charitable gift and can give landowners tax benefits or even partial payment. For the public, conservation easements reduce the future pressure of development on rivers, streams, and aquifers – which already feel the state’s rapid growth – and help maintain habitat for wildlife, a resource shared by all Texans. Additionally, land under easements may continue to be farmed, ranched, or available for other productive uses in the future.

Landowners all over Texas have placed more than a million acres into conservation easements, keeping land in Texas natural and rural. Lands placed under conservation easements give future Texans a chance to see and experience our state’s diverse, rich landscapes for years to come. Landowners who conserve their land are truly giving a gift to Texans everywhere by keeping the Hill Country’s wide open spaces, conserved lands, and connected landscapes.

To learn more and connect with folks who care about your piece of Texas just as much as you do, visit www.texasconservation.org. If you have questions related to stewardship or conservation, you can email them to DearStew@texasconservation.org and you may see them answered in a future column. Looking forward to learning more with you. – The Hill Country Steward

 The Hill Country Steward – not a person, but a partnership of local experts dedicated to sharing the best information, tips, and lessons learned. Have questions? Send them to DearStew@texasconservation.org. Learn more at www.texasconservation.org

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