Group works to preserve land, water resources
For years, people have been moving to the Hill Country to enjoy its beautiful landscapes.
But if development continues unabated and open spaces are not conserved, there could be no beautiful landscapes left to enjoy in the future, said George Cofer, executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy.
That's why the Hill Country Conservancy works with property owners to preserve remaining land and water resources and to maintain the area's rural heritage.
The conservancy sets up conservation easements (see sidebar) and helps landowners remain on their property.
Since 2000, the conservancy and its partners have preserved 40,000 acres, or 15 percent of the land in the Barton Springs Aquifer region, as open space, Cofer said.
"Homeowners view their acreage as a retreat," he said. "They move there because nobody else is there and want to be the last person there. When [development] begins to affect their skyline and their immediate neighboring property, they think conservation is a great thing."
The conservancy was founded in 1999 out of "peace talks" between Austin's business and environmental communities, Cofer said.
Cofer said struggling Hill Country ranchers have sold off large tracts of land. Few working farms and large tracts are left in the aquifer area.
Cofer said polls show that residents appreciate—and will pay to live near—scenic vistas and starry skies.
The conservancy raises awareness and increases membership through its young professionals group, Emerging Professionals in Conservation. The conservancy takes members on outings such as endangered bird watching, safaris and horseback riding.
Harper Scott, conservancy director of communications and development, said EPIC has been one of the conservancy's best vehicles for spreading its conservation message.
"I can talk about conservation all day. But if I can get somebody out there, they say, 'Oh, I get it,'" Cofer said.
Why conserve land?
Property owners preserve land for several reasons:
- To protect natural beauty
- To protect natural resources, such as water availability and air
- To avoid having to sell off portions of land to pay estate taxes
- Charitable reasons
- A wish to dictate future property uses
How to preserve land
A conservation easement is an agreement between a landowner and the holder of the easement, usually a nonprofit land trust. Conservation easements typically take between six to 18 months to set up.
A landowner gives up certain rights to his or her property, such as the right to develop it. The landowner still owns and lives on the land. The easement holder makes sure the property is being maintained according to the agreement.
Often, the Hill Country Conservancy works with the landowner to make sure the property is economically viable. Possible income streams include bird watching and hunting tours.
Source: Hill Country Conservancy