By State Rep. Justin Holland
Every year, Texas loses nearly 250,000 acres of land to development. Rural working lands that make up the wide-open spaces definitive of the Texas character are evaporating at an alarming rate.
Not only are these lands meant to be enjoyed by Texans, but they work every day to provide the food we eat and the water we drink. I consider it our responsibility as Texans and custodians of this land to pass on a state where my great-great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy the Texas outdoors, parks, wildlife and nature. That’s why I am proud to introduce landmark legislation in the Texas House calling for the creation of the Texas Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The fund is a once-in-a-generation opportunity afforded to us because of the excess in our state’s Rainy Day Fund. As my colleagues and I carefully consider important priorities like infrastructure investment, we must also make a meaningful and lasting investment in Texas lands and waters.
Our state continues to attract new people and new industry. We are blessed to have weathered tough times and continue to be one of the nation’s strongest economies and attractive places to do business. Our economic success comes in part because of the unique lands that make up Texas. I truly believe that our land is our greatest asset, and it cannot be replicated once it is lost.
We must take bold steps to preserve the landscape and culture that makes Texas a great place to live. Texas is home to 7 of the top 15 most rapidly growing cities in the country. Research also shows that 78% of Texas counties will not have sufficient parks in the coming decades.
Texas needs additional parks, open spaces and natural habitats to preserve our quality of life, provide food and fiber and clean water, and to support the multibillion-dollar agricultural and outdoor recreation economy.
The Texas Land and Water Conservation Fund would provide a significant, long-term state funding source for enhanced conservation efforts across the Lone Star State. The $2 billion investment can be dedicated as either a trust fund or an endowment.
It would provide grants for projects that support, enhance and protect state and local parks and recreation areas, working agricultural lands, water resources, wildlife habitat areas, and more. The fund could support the acquisition of land to expand state parks.
The bill provides base eligibility guidelines for funded projects and ensures that 50% of the funds go toward the conservation of agricultural lands, water resources and wildlife habitat, while the other 50% of the funds go toward state and local parks, wildlife management areas and other public access conservation projects.
The legislation would also establish a governing board for the fund led by a representative from the General Land Office and including others from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and Texas Water Development Board.
More than 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 the next generation.
I am confident my fellow lawmakers will pass this important and historic measure and give Texas voters the opportunity to codify this investment with a constitutional amendment. We have a unique chance to fund meaningful land and water conservation that will echo for generations to come.
Justin Holland is a state representative from Rockwall. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.
By State Rep. Justin Holland