Fifteen-year net loss from 1997-2012 exceeds 1 million acres
AUSTIN — Texas experienced a net loss of nearly 1.1 million acres of privately owned farms, ranches and forests from 1997 to 2012, continuing the trend of rural land conversion and fragmentation in Texas, according to Dr. Roel Lopez, director of the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.
“This dramatic loss and fragmentation of privately owned farms, ranches and forests—also known as working lands—is affecting the state’s rural economies. The conservation of water and other natural resources is also being affected, as is national security and food security,” said Lopez during a recent land and water forum in Austin.
“Privately owned farms, ranches and forests account for 83 percent of the land in Texas and are increasingly threatened by suburbanization, rural development and land fragmentation driven by rapid population growth,” he said. “More than 54 percent of this land conversion was related to development associated with population expansion in the state’s 25 highest growth rate counties. During this period, approximately 590,000 acres were lost from the agricultural land base in these counties.”
Lopez presented these and other key findings from a new Texas Land Trends study at “No Land, No Water: Tools and Strategies for Conserving Land to Protect Water Resources,” sponsored by the Texas Agricultural Land Trust.
The report describes recent changes in ownership size, land use and property values of private farms, ranches and forests in Texas from 1997 to 2012. Developed by the institute, Texas Land Trends, http://txlandtrends.org , is an interactive website and database detailing current land use trends within the state. It also shows the impacts of rural land loss and fragmentation on water, agriculture and other natural resources.
Todd Snelgrove, associate director of the institute, said the goal of Texas Land Trends is to provide public and private decision-makers with information needed to plan for the conservation of Texas farms, ranches and forests.
“Texas Land Trends is a critically important data source for policy makers, conservation organizations, state agencies and federal agencies in terms of looking at what is happening to our land base in Texas,” he said.
Blair Fitzsimons, chief operating officer for the land trust, agreed.
“Farms, ranches and forests in Texas are undergoing a fundamental change, and Texas Land Trends provides a valuable source of information for anyone in the natural resources community,” she said.
“Through Texas Land Trends, we have been able to raise awareness that ‘Yes, we have a lot of land in Texas,’ but we are losing it at a faster rate than most other states in the country, and that loss is having profound impacts on our agricultural base, our water resources and our native wildlife habitat,” Fitzsimons said.
Primary data sources for Texas Land Trends were the Texas State Comptroller of Public Accounts, which provided a 1997-2012 annual compilation of land use and land value data from 1,021 independent school districts, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, USDA National Resources Inventory, and the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis–Regional Economic Information System were also used.
Lopez said the institute will continue to release a series of reports based on current tax appraisals and USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data. All reports will be available on the Texas Land Trends website at http://txlandtrends.org as they are published.
Texas Land Trends was developed in cooperation with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Agricultural Land Trust. It was funded by the Meadows Foundation, Houston Endowment, Mitchell Foundation, Hershey Foundation and AgriLife Extension.