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Many of you have heard from our recent announcement or from the article in the Austin-American Statesman last week, that Hill Country Conservancy and its partners recently completed a conservation easement on the 747-acre Ruby Ranch, in Hays County. This conservation easement is critical to our mission, as it preserves sensitive land and water, as well as native wildlife and scenic views. In addition, protection of the ranch ensures over 10,000 acres of contiguous protected land within the recharge zone of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer, now bringing the sum to over 40,000 acres of protected land over the aquifer.
These are impressive statistics, but it’s good to reflect on why these accomplishments are important and how we plan to build on our success. We must be diligent about selecting the best projects, as guided by our strategic conservation plan, and Ruby Ranch is a perfect example of our plan in action. To start, the ranch is critical because of its location. The land is especially sensitive, with numerous caves, sinkholes (broad depressions where water infiltrates the ground) and other conduits where water drains directly into the aquifer with little to no filtration. So, limiting future development of the land will directly benefit over 40,000 wells over the aquifer as well as local springs and waterways, including Barton Springs. Like Ruby Ranch, our future projects will be selected with a strong focus on protecting important water resources.
The conservation easement on Ruby Ranch is also important because the land was so likely to be developed or mined in the future. Quarry operators nearby had previously expressed interest in mining the property, and residential subdivision had expanded adjacent to the ranch in recent years. With these big changes on the horizon, the opportunity to conserve Ruby Ranch was literally “now or never”. In addition, the land neighbors other lands previously conserved by the City of Austin, which increases the collective impact of conserving all of these lands by linking together creeks and streams, and wildlife habitat. We will continue looking at projected growth patterns, as well as other conservation efforts, aiming to build on successes while protecting the most sensitive, unique pieces of land. This allows us to have the greatest possible impact with each new conservation project.
Finally, we had great partners to help us. We knew from our first meeting that the Ruby family was serious about conserving their land, water and wildlife. However, like many rural landowners, they faced big challenges in trying to keep their land intact. Thankfully, with lots of help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (part of the USDA) and the City of Austin, we were able to provide a viable option to preserve their family legacy while also protecting water, wildlife and scenic views that are so important for all of us in central Texas. The Ruby Ranch conservation easement is a wonderful example of great partners working together to accomplish urgently-needed conservation. We’ll be doing lots more of this in the future.