Q&A with Jill Boullion of the Bayou Land Conservancy

Executive director, Bayou Land Conservancy

Executive director, Bayou Land Conservancy

Jill Boullion, Bayou Land Conservancy’s Executive Director since September 2016, attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in 1982. From there, she moved to Houston and began a career in advertising as a production manager and media buyer.
In 1988, she quit her job to start her own design and marketing firm, with her husband, Patrick, and the clients were mainly oil-field service and energy firms.
Boullion switched gears after 20 years and began a career in community development, with the education of the Community Development Institute hosted by the Lone Star College System. From there, Boullion volunteered at several different organizations, including Houston Intercontinental Chamber of Commerce, which she chaired in 2008.
The volunteer work provided her a new perspective on Houston. In 2013, Boullion was certified as a Professional Community and Economic Developer by the National Development Council, and now she is Executive Director with BLC.



What brought you to BLC?


The opportunity to permanently protect land. During my early working days, before I knew Houston well and started more local volunteer efforts, I always gave money to the Nature Conservancy. Maybe it goes back to growing up in a farming community or spending summer vacations hiking the mountains of Colorado, but I just have a real appreciation for protecting our landscape. I knew it would be a career challenge to enter the land trust world, but Bayou Land Conservancy has a 20-year track record, [and] is well-established and respected in the community, so I knew I would find good mentors and guides.



Where were you before BLC?


For 5 1/2 years, I was with the Greens Bayou Coalition in development and the executive director. The coalition is a watershed-based organization that focuses on flood mitigation, parks and trails development, and green-space preservation. I loved the community I worked with there. We accomplished a lot of great things together, such as bringing a $58 million federal flood mitigation project to Greens Bayou, opening up the bayou for kayakers and acquiring a 33-acre preserve. It was a great way for me to learn about the environmental nonprofit world in Houston and work with a wide variety of stakeholders. The job allowed me to continue using my marketing skills for the betterment of a community with great areas of need.



What do you see are the biggest goals of BLC?


Protecting more conservation property and being conscientious stewards, forever, of all that we preserve. We currently have 58 preserves and protect nearly 12,500 acres in the Houston region. Our area of focus are the 13 watersheds that feed Lake Houston. We also have a team of volunteers monitoring water quality to provide metrics, because we know that development and unregulated sand and gravel mining are impacting the water of Lake Houston, which is the primary source of drinking water in our region. Our goal is to reach more landowners in that 2,847-square-mile area that would be open to voluntarily protecting their land for future generations.



What are your biggest challenges?


Our biggest challenge is being a small nonprofit playing a long game in a race against well-funded developers. We are far from anti-development at Bayou Land Conservancy, but we know that the true economic value of protected green space, especially along our rivers and streams, is not accounted for in our fast-developing metro area. It is a challenge to get stakeholders to understand that the economic value of green space is immense. Not only can it protect against drought and flood, but there are benefits to water and air quality. There are recreational and health values as well as general support of regional biodiversity.



What are your biggest rewards?


I get the most satisfaction from getting out to our preserves, especially when we have volunteers or school children with us. You can just feel everyone’s blood pressure go down about 10 points. I have the best conversations with people when we are out in the field. Being there provides an expansive perspective on your connection with life that you can’t always get inside a building. Besides the tax benefits of donating land, I think there’s a huge psychic return, too. Perhaps landowners do not always express that, but you know that’s a factor.



How would you explain how BLC operates ?


I would tell a [child] that we save land for the bobcats, foxes and other creatures to live on and where we can camp and hike together. For [those older] I would tell them that Bayou Land Conservancy leaves a legacy for their children and grandchildren. Once the special places that we enjoyed when we were children are gone, they are gone forever. The Native American concept of thinking in terms of seven generations is perfect for the land trust world. I would also tell them that what we do provides resilience against droughts and floods for our region, as well as provides financial incentives for landowners.



How do you work with area entities to accomplish your goals?


BLC works with both public and private entities. The textbook example would be the Spring Creek Greenway project. Since becoming the first land trust in Texas to sign a conservation easement agreement with a county in 2002, for the Montgomery County Preserve, we have worked hand in hand with Montgomery and Harris counties to create the longest, urban, forested, contiguous greenway in the country. Many of our projects come about as wetland protection when developers need to mitigate for their impacts, so we work with Harris County Flood Control District and private corporations on those projects. In 2017, we are kicking off a strategic landowner outreach program. We are doing presentations to land brokers, trust officers, financial planners and community organizations. We want people to have a better understanding of what a conservation easement is and how it can benefit both the donor and the whole community.



Is there more that BLC could do?


We are always seeking to increase our impact, and that requires funding. Our board has a responsibility to see that we are financially geared to be here a very long time. One of my goals is to raise awareness with our community and increase financial support.



What is BLC’s greatest accomplishment?


Since 1996, we’ve grown from this seed of an idea to a successful, nationally accredited and respected organization that is a trusted partner in the community. Our biggest accomplishment is that we haven’t stopped focusing on our primary mission of protecting land. We are innovative in the ways we accomplish that mission. We are saving Texas, for Texans, every day.



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