Written by Amy Snelgrove, Data and Project Manager, Texan by Nature
Our rural landscapes provide more than great scenery as we roam across Texas. Farms, ranches, and forests—rural working lands—produce our food and fiber, and safeguard our clean water, air, and wildlife habitat. When you begin to see the land for what it produces and protects, you begin to see how important they are to all of us. Eighty percent of all Texans live in an urban area. You may wonder; like I do, what we can do to protect these resources. It doesn’t matter if you live in a downtown high-rise or a small country farmhouse, we can all be land stewards—someone who does best by the land (whether you own it or not). The fact is, our urban populations play a key role in protecting our land and here are 5-ways you can begin to have an impact. At Texan by Nature, we recognize the impact that every single person can make. That’s why we’re kicking off our #TxN5WayFriday series, providing weekly insight on being Texan by Nature. Below are 5 ways to be a land steward in an urban setting:
1. Support Texas’ rural working lands
Over the last 20 years, the population of Texas has increased by nearly 50% to over 28 million people. Population growth spurs the demand for land. Since 1997, we’ve lost over 2.2 million acres of farms, ranches, and forests to development—about 100,000 acres annually (Texas Land Trends). Loss of these rural working lands impacts the resources we depend on. Because of this, it is important to support agricultural, open space, and wildlife tax valuations—special-use valuation methods, available to landowners that allow property taxes to be calculated based on productive agricultural value, as opposed to market value of the land. The demand for land increases the market value and the property taxes on the land. If these tax valuations were not in place, many times farmers and ranchers would owe more in property taxes than they can generate by agricultural production leading them to consider selling their land for development. Agricultural, open space, and wildlife tax valuations are an important tool that help keep these lands from being developed. Our health and quality of life depend on it. To learn more: https://agrilife.org/texasaglaw/2016/11/07/special-use-valuation-texas-part-basics/
2. Go Hunting and Fishing…or pretend you do!
Thanks to Pittman-Robinson and Dingell-Johnson Acts, funds generated from an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and fishing equipment go directly to conservation programs in our great state. In 2018 alone, ~3.1-million hunters and anglers in Texas (TPWD) generated ~$54-million dollars to fund important conservation initiatives (Department of Interior). Even if you don’t fish or hunt, go buy the “super combo” license from a sporting goods store near you! You’ll be directly contributing to the conservation of our natural lands and those that work to protect them. For more information or to purchase: https://tpwd.texas.gov/business/licenses/online_sales/
3. Manage the land you have
For some of us, land ownership is confined to the area within our fenced backyard. No matter how big or small, you can be a land steward. Make sure your landscaping—trees, shrubs, plants, and grasses—are water efficient. Going native for your region of Texas is your best bet. Natives use less water and tolerate our Texas heat! Well-established native shrubs and plants require minimal water beyond normal rainfall so reduce your turfgrass footprint and plant native beds. Lastly, realize landscapes don’t waste water, people do. Water early in the morning or later in the evening and use only the water you need. Concrete and asphalt don’t need water to flourish! If all you have is a balcony, you can use these same guidelines for a beautiful patio garden. There are tons of resources to help you: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/solutions/earth-kind-landscaping/
4. Enjoy Texas’ public lands
Texas boasts over 90 state parks, historic sites, and natural areas, two National Parks and 12 national monuments, forests, and recreational areas. These parks span from the swamps and pine forests of East Texas, to the wooded lands of the Hill County, all the way to the mountains and deserts of far west Texas. There is a lot to explore and enjoy. Your use fees and permits, while visiting, go directly toward conservation and management of these lands. Check out this awesome visitor guide: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_p4000_0000aa.pdf
5. Actively support conservation organizations.
There are so many organizations working to conserve our natural open spaces and rural working lands. Becoming involved and supporting these organizations through membership, volunteer opportunities, and donations will not only help these organizations have positive impacts for conservation but will help you become a better-informed land steward. If you’re at a loss for where to start, visit our conservation partners page at: https://texanbynature.org/conservation-partners/