Going, Going, Gone: The impact of land fragmentation
on Texas agriculture and wildlife
A Purchase of Development Rights Program: One Solution
The Texas A&M research clearly demonstrates that the strongest factor driving the fragmentation of Texas land is economics. Specifically, where the recreational and development value of land escalates, the size of the average landholding quickly shrinks. This suggests that some fragmentation might be avoided by offering landowners financial incentives not to sell or subdivide their lands.
The state officially recognized the gravity of this problem in 2000 when Governor Bush's Task Force on Conservation concluded that the fragmentation of large family-owned farms and ranches poses the "greatest single threat to wildlife habitat and the long-term viability of agriculture in Texas." The task force recommended that Texas initiate a statewide private lands conservation program called a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. (More information on PDRs in Texas)
PDR programs buy development rights from willing landowners, thus compensating them for conserving wildlife, agriculture, water and open land space, rather than selling lands for development. Under a PDR program, willing landowners are paid for the development value of their land, either in perpetuity or for a term of years. The landowner retains all other rights of ownership, including the right to use the land for agriculture or hunting; to prevent trespass; and to sell, bequeath or otherwise transfer the land to others. The agency or organization purchasing the development rights then has the right and responsibility to limit subdivision and development of the property as described in provisions of the agreement. They do not acquire the right to develop the land themselves.
Such a program is especially well suited to Texas, where 84 percent of all rural land is in private hands. It is completely voluntary and allows landowners to reap the benefit of their rising property values, while still keeping their land in production or in its natural state.
The fragmentation study developed a simulation model to test several possible PDR program scenarios for Texas and found the following:
- A PDR program can attain the greatest success if efforts are focused on areas where large ranches are still the norm, but where evidence of mounting pressure for fragmentation exists. Such a strategy protects the greatest acreage. From a biological and agricultural diversity perspective, however, a PDR program would be remiss in ignoring ecoregions characterized by smaller land holdings. A two-pronged approach addressing conservation of large acreages and consolidation or cooperative management among landowners of smaller acreages is advised.
- A PDR program should begin immediately in Texas. All else being equal, waiting five years to begin the program decreases the possible acreage protected by 60 to 75 percent by the end of 10 years.
- A five-year delay in implementing a PDR program would be more harmful than cutting any funding for such a program in half. With reduced funding and immediate implementation, 82 percent more land in large ownerships would be conserved than with a five-year delay in the program.
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