The Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) and the Texas Agricultural Land Trust (TALT) are joining forces with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement landscape-scale conservation initiatives across the Trans-Pecos region in West Texas. The effort is fueled by a $3.5 million commitment from the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which will help fund innovative conservation approaches on private lands, including habitat restoration efforts, conservations easements and ecosystem services.
“This will be a game-changer for conservation efforts in West Texas,” said Dr. Louis Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross State University. “Through this collaboration with the Texas Agricultural Land Trust and by partnering with private landowners, we’ll be able to implement a variety of conservation initiatives to address some of the most critical natural resource priorities in the Trans-Pecos, including grassland and riparian habitat restoration and enhancement.”
BRI is a vital hub for natural resource research and management in the Trans-Pecos region, and is the lead organization for this effort. BRI will be responsible for implementing restoration and enhancement projects, as well as monitoring and evaluating projects. TALT will provide the expertise for all conservation easement agreements, as well as evaluation of ecosystem services and assessing ecosystem services compensation options.
“Conservation easements are one of the most effective tools for long-term protection of agricultural working lands, which support a vast diversity of native plants and animals,” said TALT CEO Chad Ellis. “These funds will help remove the financial barriers to applying conservation easements on private land, allowing land stewards in the Trans-Pecos region to conserve thousands of acres of working lands in Texas for generations to come. We look forward to helping interested landowners access these tools, and we will also be a resource as they explore ecosystem services marketplaces.”
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that allows landowners to retain title and management of their property, while forever protecting the land from development. Ecosystem services markets are among the most innovative voluntary frameworks to advance conservation. TALT supports these markets by connecting buyers, sellers, verifiers and marketplaces with tools and resources that can help accelerate the adoption of ecosystem services markets. With more than 95 percent of land in Texas privately held, private landowners are instrumental to successful conservation efforts, which benefit us all through healthy wildlife populations and cleaner air and water.
NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funding provides opportunities for conservation partners to collaborate one-on-one with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners throughout the nation to implement systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve the health of wildlife habitats and increase climate resilience. RCPP partners offer value-added contributions to amplify the impact of RCPP funding. To date, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on the nation’s private lands.
“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a public-private partnership working at its best,” said Terry Cosby, Chief for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “These new projects will harness the power of partnership to help bring about solutions to natural resource concerns across the country while supporting our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”
Landowners will soon be able to apply for funds for a variety of on-the-ground conservation projects across the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas. Evaluating the effectiveness of funded projects is a key element of this partnership program. BRI will actively monitor the results of these projects, synthesize the results and deliver associated recommendations to area producers and conservation partners to maximize impact. Applications will be available online later this year on the BRI website, bri.sulross.edu.