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Going, Going, Gone: The impact of land fragmentation
on Texas agriculture and wildlife

The Texas of legend, and of our memories, is a land of vast, wide open spaces. The reality, however, is that over the last 30 years, the average size of land ownership—the average acreage of land holdings—in Texas has been shrinking dramatically.

A March, 2003 report from Texas Cooperative Extension of the Texas A&M University System and American Farmland Trust, entitled Texas Rural Lands: Trends and Conservation Implications for the 21st Century [more], assesses the extent of land fragmentation in Texas and identifies predictors that warn of areas around the state most at risk for fragmentation. The report also examines how effective a purchase of development rights program may be in stemming the tide of land fragmentation in Texas. (More information on PDR in Texas)

Going, Going, Gone: The Impact of Land Fragmentation on Texas Agriculture and Wildlife summarizes some of the findings of that report, by discussing the effect of land fragmentation on our citizens, wildlife, farming, ranching and water supplies. This 12-page study also outlines recommendations made by American Farmland Trust with an eye toward conserving family lands and the Texas landscapes of our memory.

To accommodate new landowners, the vast farms and famous Texas ranches are being rapidly splintered into smaller and smaller pieces. Each year since 1970, about 1,000 new farms and ranches have been established in Texas. At the same time, the total area devoted to agricultural uses declined by almost 3 million acres. That's 33,000 more farms and ranches on 3 million fewer acres. This process is part of a trend known as land fragmentation. (Look at a map of Texas' most fragmented counties)

Those new "ranchettes" are typically too small for traditional farming, ranching or forestry. But that's fine with most new landowners who have limited interest in working the land. Instead, they want a place where they can escape the crowds and noise of urban life. They want to do a little hunting, explore the countryside, own a few cattle and reconnect with the spirit of the old West. One recent survey of new landowners by the Texas A&M University's Real Estate Center found that 80 percent of buyers said that finding land for non-agricultural uses, like hunting, fishing and other recreation were "very important" motives for their purchase.

Sadly, this rush to embrace the land may be ruining it. Thousands of new "ranchettes" are gobbling up open space and degrading wildlife habitat, while at the same time depleting and polluting scarce water resources.

The most vivid examples of this phenomenon can be found in the more populous eastern half of the state and on the outskirts of just about any major city. From 1992 to 2001, over half a million acres of farm and ranchland in twenty-five Texas counties were converted to land uses other than agriculture. While this loss due to "urban sprawl" was primarily confined to the fringes of our major metropolitan areas, the fragmentation of agricultural lands into smaller ownerships has occurred in areas that have not been affected by urban sprawl. Fragmentation is starting to eat away at large ownerships even in areas such as the Trans Pecos and South Texas, which seem the very definition of "wide open spaces." This fragmentation is likely to continue in some of the most rural areas of the state where natural amenities such as recreation potential and scenic beauty are in high demand.

Texas Rural Lands: Trends and Conservation Implications for the 21st Century examined the issue of land fragmentation and its impact on land uses across the state and found that this phenomenon is rapidly transforming Texas. The changes often go unnoticed by the average Texan, but those close to the land see the consequences. Things are changing.

Follow the links below to view the rest of the report. Or download a PDF of the full report here.

Look at the Texas Land Trends interactive report here.

Contact Us
Bob Wagner
Managing Director, Field Programs
1 Short Street, Suite 2
Northampton, MA 01060
(p) 800-370-4879 (f) 413-586-9332

Texas Regional home page

Fragmentation study overview Water Worries
Ranches and Wildlife Recommendations
A PDR program for Texas Charts and Graphs
New Breed of Landowners  
American Farmland Trust