Nature Conservancy Continues to Buy Up Texas
There isn't much public land in Texas, but the Nature Conservancy (TNC) intends to change that fact.
TNC has contracted to buy 87,760 acres (137 square miles) of West Texas land near the headwaters of the Devil's River to "protect it" from future development and re-establish abundant stocks of some sort of minnow, said their spokesman.
The land belongs to lawyer Harold Nix, who collected huge attorney's fees in the state's tobacco lawsuit.
TNC's national board authorized a $23 million loan to secure the deal, but TNC spokesman Niki McDaniel said they plan to sell most of the property to people who will agree to easements restricting development.
TNC also owns two other tracts on the Devil's River totaling 40,000 acres downstream and manages the 19,850 acre Devils' River State Natural Area.
With the new addition, they will control 25 of the river's 60 miles.
Other Conservancy schemes in Texas include 32,000 acres in the Davis Mountains and 30,428 acres in the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan where they are in cahoots with the City of Austin and Travis County. Carolyn Vogel, land trust coordinator for Texas Parks and Wildlife praised the Conservancy's purchase saying; "Parks and Wildlife alone can't accomplish (purchase) all of this."
The Nature Conservancy, through its pending purchase of almost 88,000 acres north of Del Rio, wants to protect land that falls into three distinct ecological regions in its largely natural state, excluding it from development in what may be the largest private conservation effort ever in Texas.
Officials of the land-protection group, based in suburban Washington, said they hope to sell the land to a single buyer or several buyers with restrictions attached that would ensure the property forever remains principally intact and unchanged.
The land nearly encircles the headwaters of the Devils River, fed by springs emanating from the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer, which then run through steep cliffs, limestone mesas and sculpted canyons for 60 miles before emptying into Lake Amistad, 25 miles north of Del Rio.
"What we're trying to do is protect the source," James King, The Nature Conservancy's West Texas program manager, told the San Antonio Express-News. "That's why we're there. It's the water."
But the property, carrying an asking price of $25 million, likely limited the number of conservation-minded people who could afford it, King said.
The not-for-profit conservancy has purchased two other tracts totaling about 40,000 acres downstream along the Devils since 1991.
The latest purchase in Val Verde County includes canyons that are home to endangered nesting black-capped vireos and endangered Texas snowbells. Many unique and rare species such as the Devils River minnow and the Dolan Spring salamander inhabit the river's turquoise-tinged waters.
The property also includes Fern Cave, the seasonal home to more than 1 million Mexican free-tailed bats. The cave, with a sinkhole entrance almost 100 feet deep, is one of the state's largest in terms of volume, according to The New Handbook of Texas.
The land, King said, encompasses eight historic ranches that had been consolidated a few years ago by Harold Nix, an attorney who helped settle the state's lawsuit against cigarette makers.
The group felt compelled to purchase the property after Nix put it on the market, King said. Conservationists feared that the property could have been cut up into ranchette-style developments that would pose a threat to water quality.
The river's banks are lined with cedar elm, live oak and willow trees used by birds of prey, songbirds and monarch butterflies.
The 87,760-acre tract falls into the Edwards Plateau, Chihuahuan Desert and Tamaulipian Thornscrub, the conservancy says.
"I suspect there are probably a few people out there that have the financial resources and the interest," King said, adding that buyers would be able to negotiate an agreement that would allow them to build a homestead, raise cattle or operate a hunting, fishing or eco-tourism business.
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