May 3, 2023- With an overwhelming vote of 131-13, the Texas House passed HB 3165 to create the Texas Land and Water Conservation Fund. The vote follows a 139-2 vote for HJR 138, which would put the fund on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment, allowing Texas voters to declare their support for conserving land and water for future generations. The legislation will now proceed to the Senate for a vote. District 2 Representative Bryan Slaton voted against the bill.
“The Texas House acted boldly to preserve what we love about Texas,” said Rep. Justin Holland who authored the bill. “This fund supports land and water conservation efforts for both public recreation and natural resource conservation that will allow Texas to thrive for generations to come. Because 95% of Texas is privately owned, it is vital we encourage private conservation along with the expansion of public parks, and this legislation achieves that goal.”
More than 240,000 acres of Texas land is lost to development each year. Texas needs additional parks, open spaces, and natural habitats to preserve our quality of life, provide food and fiber, clean water, and to support the multi-billion-dollar agricultural and outdoor recreation economy. According to a recent study by the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, less than four percent of land in Texas is under some form of protection.
“Any meaningful impact on conservation will include close collaboration with private landowners,” said Lori Olson, the Executive Director of the Texas Land Trust Council. “By partnering with private landowners to steward their lands, we maintain our state’s strong commitment to private property rights, while mitigating the impacts overdevelopment has on our economy, water resources, natural environment, and wildlife. “
“There is a tremendous public benefit to private land conservation,” said Suzanne Scott, Texas State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “A 2019 report found more than $1 billion in annual benefits to Texas taxpayers from lands protected and conservation easements held by Texas land trusts. These trusts also strengthen rural economies generating an estimated $150 million annually in agriculture, timber, and ranching productivity and $11 million annually in hunting and wildlife leases.”
Recent polling shows that 83% of potential voters support ballot language for the Texas Land and Water Conservation Fund. Over 50 of the state’s leading land and water conservation, agricultural, wildlife, and sportsmen’s organizations have formed the Texas Land and Water Conservation Coalition to support this effort. These groups represent thousands of Texans from all walks of life, connected by a desire to protect Texas for future generations.
HB 3165 would provide grants for existing programs and projects that would preserve our water resources, agricultural lands, and wildlife habitats and provide additional outdoor recreational opportunities for all Texans. The bill provides base eligibility guidelines for projects and ensures that 50% of the funds go toward the conservation of agricultural lands, water resources, and wildlife habitat, and 50% of the funds go toward state and local parks, wildlife management areas, and other public access conservation projects.
HJR 138 would establish a dedicated fund for conservation. With an historic budget surplus, Texas legislators have a once in a generation opportunity to act now to constitutionally dedicate $2 billion to create this historic fund. HJR 138 would place the fund on the November ballot, allowing Texas voters to dedicate these funds to protect and preserve the Texas landscape.