Armed with $2 million in legislative appropriations to help bring more of the state’s high-value working farm and ranch lands under long term conservation protection, the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council held its inaugural meeting under the administration of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The goal of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program (TFRLCP) is conservation of working lands with high values for water, fish and wildlife, and agricultural production, especially lands at risk of development. The program supports TPWD’s mission to encourage stewardship of private working lands for conservation of natural resources. TPWD objectives within this program include generating interest and awareness among land trusts and landowners, attracting significant numbers of qualified applicants, and leveraging the available money to fund as many high quality projects as possible.
Texas HB1925 (companion bill SB1597) transferred the TFRLCP from the Texas General Land Office where it has been since it was established by the legislature in 2005 to TPWD effective January 1, 2016. With guidance from the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council, TPWD staff has adopted components for the grants process, including grant cycle timelines and selection criteria.
Texas leads the nation in the loss and conversion of working farm and ranch lands. TFRLCP hopes to stem the tide by providing grant funds to purchase long term conservation easements on high value working lands. To date, Texas land trusts, which serve as the brokers for conservation easements, have brought more than 1.6 million acres of working lands into long term protection from development.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses funding from the federal Farm Bill to purchase conservation easement rights and received a record 11 grant applications for consideration during the most recent application cycle that ended January 15, 2016. Qualifying projects may be eligible to meet their NRCS match requirement using TFRLCP funding. The Council anticipates considering several projects that meet the requirements of both programs. The first TFRLCP grant application cycle is currently open. The deadline to apply for consideration by the Council at its March 2 meeting is February 19. Potential applicants who are not seeking 2016 NRCS matching funds or may not be able to meet the February 19 deadline are still encouraged to submit their applications to TPWD to demonstrate their interest and the need for continued funding for the Program. More information about the TFRLCP is available online at http://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/private/farm-and-ranch/ or contact TPWD by email at TexasFarmandRanch@tpwd.texas.gov .