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New landowner report shows energy, growth trends in West Texas

Counties surveyed
The Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, or NRI, led a collaboration to develop a new report showing how changes in land use have influenced multiple counties in West Texas over the past two decades.

The 148-page  report, West Texas Landowner Report: Energy and Growth Trends, was produced by the institute’s Angelica Lopez, Ph.D., research scientist; Roel Lopez, Ph.D., institute director; Kevin Skow, geospatial manager; and Matthew Crawford, geospatial specialist. It was developed in partnership with the Texas Agricultural Land Trust and Borderlands Research Institute and funded by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

The report covers changes in West Texas land trends related to energy development and compares findings from West Texas landowners with landowners statewide. It was compiled from survey answers and comments by landowners relating to land management needs, preferences, practices, plans, concerns, challenges, wildlife activities and more.

“The purpose of the report was to compile information for key partners and organizations working to conserve and shape the future of West Texas,” said Angelica Lopez, the report’s primary author. “Much of the data used in the report came from responses by landowners in 16 West Texas counties to the comprehensive statewide landowner survey we developed and distributed.”

West Texas counties represented

The 16 surveyed counties, all in the Upper Rio Grande region, were Brewster, Crane, Culberson, El Paso, Ector, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Loving, Midland, Pecos, Presidio, Reeves, Terrell, Upton, Ward and Winkler. 

Report results indicate West Texas has remained primarily rural and less impacted by urban development than other regions across the state. However, Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties were a regional hot-spot for land-use changes due to recent urban development pressure largely driven by energy development activity.

“Texas has 141 million acres of private farms, ranches and forestlands, leading the nation in land area devoted to privately owned working lands,” said Angelica Lopez. “These lands provide food and fiber, support rural economies, and provide recreational opportunities along with other products and services. The 16-county area of West Texas addressed in the report represents more than 17 million acres of these working lands.”

She said the report not only reflects the responses by the landowners but also identifies opportunities for improved land management, participation in land-enhancement and protection programs, tax valuations and other possibilities. 

West Texas landowner profile, practices, concerns

Landowners: Survey respondents were predominantly male and indicated ranching and hunting were primary sources of income derived from their land, followed by oil and gas, and farming. For many, land income contributed less than 25% of their total annual household income, but for about one-third it contributed more than 25%. Many landowners indicated they did not derive income from their land, but even among them there appeared to be opposition to selling or subdividing their lands.

Land management: West Texas respondents focused their land practices on grazing management, hunting, habitat restoration, predator control, livestock production, feral animal control and water development. Wildlife for which landowners managed their land included big game animals, upland game birds, migratory game birds, non-game birds, exotic game and non-game animals.

Landowner concerns: Landowners were concerned with solar energy development and mineral rights. They were extremely concerned about the breakup of private lands, declining wildlife populations, groundwater ownership, landowner liability, private property rights, property taxes, soil health, water demand and wildlife/livestock diseases. They also expressed concern about eminent domain, water supply, property damage, predators, predator control, fencing-related wildlife deaths and brush control.

Land loss/fragmentation: Factors perceived to moderately influence land-use changes were land/housing development, oil/gas energy development and mineral rights. Factors perceived to highly influence land-use changes included the death of primary land caretaker, estate/death tax rates, high property tax rates, increasing human population, increasing market value versus land production capabilities, parcel division within families, and sale of lands to non-family members.

West Texas landowners compared to landowners statewide

Lopez said some variations noted between West Texas and statewide landowners were that West Texas landowners were more likely to own more than one rural property and property sizes in the region generally tended to be larger. West Texas landowners also differed slightly from their statewide counterparts in how they preferred to manage their lands.

“Activities contributing income derived from the land for West Texas landowners were, in order, ranching, hunting, mineral rights and oil and gas, while statewide the order was ranching, hunting, farming and non-hunting land leases,” Lopez said.

She also noted West Texas landowners leaned toward ‘not at all likely’ to designate all or part of their land for wind and solar energy and that selling a portion of their mineral rights was a strong ‘not at all likely’ option for most of them.

While both West Texas and statewide landowners expressed concerns regarding regulatory, energy, land-use changes and water ownership, West Texas landowners were considerably more concerned about oil and gas energy development and were extremely or moderately concerned about wind energy development.

“Understanding West Texas landowners and their land management needs will help natural resource professionals develop targeted and relevant programs that will help them succeed,” Lopez said. “We want to support landowners in West Texas and statewide in the continued stewardship of their lands and help them prepare for any current or future concerns and challenges.”

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