“Profiles in Environmentalism” is a recurring segment on our blog where we shine a light on the dedicated people who are working to preserve the world around them. Big or small, local or national, every environmental organization works towards the same goal: providing a greener world for future generations.
When people think of Texas, their minds inevitably draw up an image of cowboys and rolling tumbleweeds. But for those who’ve spent time out in the vast wilderness of the state, their minds envision the verdant fields of the Hill Country or the yawning chasms of Big Bend. Texas contains many diverse landscapes including swamplands, forests, grasslands, prairies, and of course the high desert country for which it is most famous for. For Texans, these landscapes represent a natural heritage that must be preserved for future generations. But protecting these lands from commercial development is an unyielding challenge for both landowners and conservation groups.
With over 20 national parks and forests, in addition to 93 state parks, Texas is no stranger to conservation. But there are many ecologically significant areas of Texas that go unprotected either because they are too small or are privately owned. This was the observation of one Ned Fritz, founder of the Texas Land Conservancy (TLC). The organization that Fritz created in 1982 would grow to become one of the state’s largest trusts for natural areas, helping to preserve over 85,000 acres of land spread throughout Texas.
The Texas Land Conservancy is a private non-profit land trust that specializes in protecting land throughout the state. Much of the TLC’s activities revolve around working with private landowners who wish to permanently set aside their land for the purpose of conservation. TLC creates conservation easements with landowners, a legal agreement that permanently bars the owner’s land from being used for commercial development. Though the agreement restricts the use of the land, the actual ownership of the land remains with the landowner. Therefore the property can still be sold or passed down to successive generations, but it can never be used for development purposes.
The Texas Land Conservancy currently holds easements for 110 preserves spanning nine distinct eco-regions of Texas. These include wetlands, forests, plains, grasslands, and desert country. TLC generally focuses its conservation efforts on riparian environments, where the land meets streams and rivers, as these areas are usually highly vulnerable to development and industry. TLC also places a high priority on habitats that are home to endangered or threatened species.
One of the Conservancy’s proudest accomplishments has been the development of Oak Cliff Nature Preserve (OCNP), a publically accessible preserve managed owned by TLC. This 121-acre plot of land was originally used as a camp by the Boy Scouts from the late 1970’s up until 1996. After the Boy Scouts relocated their camp, the land was left unused and became a local landmark for the families who lived around it. That all changed when real estate developers began drawing up plans to use the land for houses. Fortunately, thanks to the swift action of the local HOA and the Texas Land Conservancy, a deal was worked out with the developers to preserve the land in perpetuity.
Since then, TLC has partnered with the Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association to create multi-use bike and hike trails through the Oak Cliff Preserve. Each trail was designed to minimize impact on the soil, plant life, and animals within the preserve. Over eight miles of trails now run through the preserve, allowing local Dallas residents the chance to encounter nature right in the heart of urban Dallas.
The Texas Land Conservancy continues to identify and protect ecologically significant areas throughout the region, helping to protect innumerable species and ensuring that the Texan wilderness will remain unspoiled. The work of TLC, and other land trusts like it, is crucial to ensuring that our most vulnerable natural areas are not lost to shopping malls and real estate developments.
*Photos provided by the Texas Land Conservancy