February is the month of love! Here at the Hill Country Alliance, one of the things we love most is the wide-open lands of the Hill Country. Rolling hills, deep canyons, wooded grottos, and wide river basins are just a few of the things that define our special region. We share this love by working with landowners and partners across 17 counties to preserve the Hill Country’s open spaces and working ranchlands.
As more and more people move to our region, the natural habitats that characterize our Texas landscape are steadily decreasing. This is why partnerships, such as HCA’s recent work with the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and the League of Women Voters in Comal County, are crucial to find solutions for preserving land in one of the fastest growing regions in the county.
One of the best ways to share our love for Texas lands is to permanently protect the most sensitive parts of our region through a unique legal tool: conservation easements. Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between a property owner and a land trust to protect the land from future development. There are currently roughly 440,000 acres in permanent protection within the Hill Country. HCA’s Land Conservation Team regularly convenes meetings with Hill Country-focused land trusts to share strategies and coordinate efforts to get the word out about conservation across the Hill Country.
Want to learn about Conservation Easements? There are a few events coming up that will be of interest to you:
–    April 3, 5pm-7pm at Phil Hardberger Park (San Antonio): Bexar County Conservation Easement Workshop – Details
–    April 20, 10am-4pm at Burnet County AgriLife Extension Office (Burnet): HCA and HCC Conservation Easement Workshop – Details
Partner Spotlight: Shield Ranch and El Ranchito!
The Shield Ayres Bowen family has protected the Shield Ranch with two conservation easements and are evolving ways to share the land they love with future generations. Located in southwest Austin, Shield Ranch protects more than six miles of Barton Creek, native habitat for wildlife, endangered birds and quality of life benefits derived from a large protected open space in a rapidly urbanizing area.
El Ranchito is a nature immersion, residential camp held on Shield Ranch. This summer will be the 12th year of camp. El Ranchito provides young people who would not otherwise have the opportunity a unique primitive camping adventure, while learning about Hill Country land, water, wildlife, people and history. El Ranchito serves youth age 10 to 22 in three age-specific programs: Nature Discovery Camp, Conservation Corps and The Gulf Coast Expedition: A Service Learning Journey. All camps focus on education and appreciation of the natural world through experience and service. El Ranchito campers develop a strong camp community and deep sense of place as they grow into dedicated stewards of the nature. Staff and campers are currently being recruited for the 2018 summer season—so visit their website to learn more!