The stewards of Texas’ working lands have spoken.
The Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, a unit of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, recently published the results of the 2022 Texas Landowner Survey, providing natural resource and conservation agencies, as well as policy makers with critical insight into the demographics, needs, challenges and preferences of landowners who operate private working lands across the state.
The voluntary survey, which received more than 5,000 responses, is conducted every five years as a collaborative effort between the Natural Resources Institute, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and other natural resource professionals.
The data collected by the survey aids natural resource agencies in developing and implementing educational resources and programming to benefit landowners and the landscapes they steward.
“I am hopeful this report will be helpful to both landowners and those who assist landowners,” said Angelica Lopez, Ph.D., research scientist with the Natural Resources Institute. “Understanding who we serve is vital to developing meaningful programs.”
Rural working lands
According to the report, 83% of Texas is comprised of private, rural working lands that produce myriad benefits including food, fiber, recreation, ecosystem services and energy for the state and beyond. These working lands encompass the rangelands, farms and forestlands that not only support the economy, but provide critical resources such as erosion and flood control, wildlife habitat, and improved water and air quality.
“Since private, rural working lands comprise most of the open space in Texas, private, rural landowners and their management decisions help shape our statewide resources,” said Roel Lopez, Ph.D., director of the Natural Resources Institute.
While operations vary in size, the results of the 2022 survey indicate 60% of respondents own less than 500 acres; 15% own between 500 and 1,000 acres, and 25% own more than 1,000 acres.
Survey results also indicate that fewer respondents are deriving income from their lands—particularly those owning less than 500 acres.
“From a public outreach perspective, this offers an opportunity to get more creative with programs developed for landowners, offering landowners a menu of options for them to then determine which is better suited for their unique operations,” Angelica Lopez said.
Collectively, 90% of respondents earned less than 30% of their income from their lands.
“This also may present the opportunity to develop incentive-type programming or tax-associated programming that may assist landowners of any operation size, as each acre matters in terms of the ecological benefits derived from the land, for communities near and far,” she added.
Motivations and concerns
Respondents noted that wildlife, family and hunting were the primary drivers behind land ownership, closely followed by ranching and recreation. The most common recreational activities noted included hunting, wildlife watching and experiencing nature.
“These stated interests and preferences for wildlife, recreation and ranching indicate that Texas landowners have a vested interest in land stewardship, with many stating that they are willing to participate in landowner programs like tax valuations, landowner cooperatives and technical assistance programs,” Angelica Lopez said.
The survey also indicates landowners manage their lands for a variety of game species ranging from big game to upland and migratory game birds. For respondents who hunt, the preferred target wildlife species was overwhelmingly white-tailed deer.
The loss of Texas working lands to urban sprawl and associated development, as well as water issues, invasive species and ownership rights are among the primary concerns noted by responding landowners.
Angelica Lopez said understanding these concerns allows natural resource organizations to directly address the key issues facing Texas landowners.
“If natural resource professionals can properly connect with landowners through their values, needs and concerns, there is a real opportunity to help them successfully continue to steward their land to their personal benefit and the benefit of all Texans,” she said.