Why Does Private Land Conservation Matter to You?

 “As goes the land, so goes the water – and life as we know it.”

Autumn on Hillingdon Ranch - Au02

“Once our open space lands are gone, they are gone forever – and so are the benefits of food, fiber, shelter, clean air, clean and plentiful water resources, healthy riparian areas, wildlife habitat, and seemingly endless vistas that bring peace to harried souls.”

Impact of Private Land Conservation

Texas is losing agricultural land faster than any other state. This loss is driven by many factors.  Topping the list are costs of estate taxes, fragmentation, increasing land values and urban sprawl.  The book Hillingdon Ranch: Four Seasons, Six Generations artfully illustrates the challenges that ranch families must overcome to keep their land whole, productive, profitable and in family hands.

Equally important, this book illustrates how private land conservation and stewardship provides far reaching public benefits mentioned above. Those benefits cannot be overstated.

From Where Will the Water Flow?

While Hillingdon Ranch: Four Season, Six Generations is first and foremost one family’s story of ranch life, it also illustrates how the actions of a group of thoughtful land stewards impact the public far beyond their fences.

These excerpts from the book say it best:

“Our challenge is forging a shared dream or, at least reaching a place where all of the individual dreams no longer conflict, but complement one another. Perhaps, a meaningful conversation can be started if we realize that everyone’s dreams, no matter what they are, will die without water. Rain can continue to fall, but if the cycle of capture, percolation and filtration that depends on open space land ceases to function, we will never again have enough water to drink, much less enough water to drive our industries and sprinkle our lawns.”


“The story we are telling is not new, but it has become more urgent.”

“While it may not be obvious to the casual observer, the family’s land stewardship efforts have kept the water flowing. The vegetation that sustains the wildlife and the livestock is an integral part of the water cycle. The quilt-like mosaic of grass, forbs, shrubs, and trees catches the rain that falls, slowing it down so that it seeps into the underlying aquifers instead of rushing headlong down the steep rocky hillsides, eroding the precious top soil and clogging nearby creeks and springs. The water that reaches both Block Creek and Flat Rock Creek, the largest of the ranch’s many creeks, streams and springs, is clear and clean as the watercourses make their way to the Guadalupe River and eventually Matagorda Bay, winter home of the whooping crane. Downstream users turn on their taps completely unaware that the efforts of their upstream neighbors ensure that water flows forth when the spouts are opened.”

Ranch Land Conservation = Water, Food & Fiber Security

“In 1910, when Palmer Giles was preparing to take on the management of Hillingdon Ranch, 72 percent of America’s population was considered rural. Today, as Grant Giles prepares to take on the management of Hillingdon Ranch, only 16 percent of America’s population lives in rural areas. The percentage of rural America is expected to continue to decline as the U.S. population grows from 309 million to 400 million by midcentury, leading people to crowd cities and suburbs and fill in the open spaces around them.”

Summer Drought on Hillingdon Ranch

“The health of our natural resources depends on stewardship. And stewardship needs stewards. As our populations shifts toward almost complete urbanization, keeping open spaces open and productive will become increasingly difficult. As citizens, we must recognize the contributions of places like Hillingdon Ranch and people like the Giles family to the well-being of everyone.” David K. Langford

“The new neighbors are likely to work in nearby cities, commuting back and forth. Obviously, it is more convenient to buy groceries, drop-off dry cleaning and bank where people spend most of their days, meaning that consumer dollars remain in the city instead of sustaining the small towns. Those mainstay mom-and-pop businesses that once lined Main Street in Small Town, America are steadily being shuttered.

Very few of the new neighbors need fencing supplies, welders, tractor mechanics, vaccines, livestock feed, farriers, and large animal veterinarians, so those goods and services become harder to obtain for the ranching families, like the Giles, who need them. As businesses and ranches disappear, so does the rural tax base, affecting schools and hospitals. The interrelationships are as intricately woven and as fragile as the threads of spider’s web.

Currently, meat animal agriculture contributes $66 billion of activity to the nation’s economy. It is a significant business. What is going to happen to our communities – large and small – if animal agriculture and the people whose livelihood depends on the industry disappear?”

IMAGINE: What If Private Land Conservation Didn’t Exist?

“As the voice of rural America continues to be silenced by those thronging to the cities, it is imperative that our urban and suburban neighbors not only recognize the role that open space land plays in our lives, but begin advocating for its conservation. Of course, there are obstacles to this, and perhaps, the biggest obstacle, at least when it comes to the Texas Hill Country and other rural areas experiencing development pressure, is the lack of a shared dream.”

Summer on the Hillingdon Ranch - Su01

Private land conservation keeps productive rangelands open, providing diverse wildlife habitat, clean clear water, pure air as well as the raw materials to produce food and fiber.

“What happens if we, as a society, continue to value open space land solely on its market prices and ignore its ecological and societal benefits?  Simply put, our society will make a devastating blunder if we continue ignoring the true value of open space land, which lies in its ability to sustain our lives.

To understand the impact of a future of unchecked fragmentation and unlimited asphalt, stop for a moment and imagine life without awe-inspiring vistas. Imagine life without the majesty of wildlife or the songs of birds. Imagine life without room to roam. Imagine life without towering trees, prickly cacti, or eye-catching wildflowers. Imagine life without clean air. Imagine life where our food supply is held hostage by a foreign power.”