Amy Thurow and Tom Thurow
Juniper cover and density affects and is affected by land-use decisions in the Edwards Plateau. Thurow et al. (1997) depicted land-use tradeoffs associated with juniper management on rangelands. Progressively, juniper out-competes forage cover and thus diminishes livestock carrying capacity (Thurow et al. 1997, Kothmann. 1997). Juniper cover improves wildlife habitat — to a point — but dense cover can reduce biodiversity (Rollins and Armstrong 1997, Nelle 1997). Thurow (1997), Hester (1996), and Dye et al. (1995) documented the extent to which juniper canopy can restrict the infiltration of precipitation which limits both surface water flows and groundwater recharge. Ueckert (1997) argued forcefully that cost-effective and successful juniper management becomes increasingly difficult as juniper cover and height increases. Reinecke et al. (1997) and Rowan and Conner (1994) demonstrated that on the Edwards Plateau cost-effective juniper control becomes increasingly difficult the more dense the brush cover and that it is most cost-effective to achieve successful management and control on larger rather than smaller ranches. In sum, the viability of a ranch enterprise and the range of land-use options diminishes as juniper cover and density progresses.
Juniper management on the Edwards Plateau is a challenging public policy issue because private decisions today strongly influence future land use options and thus can have implications for stakeholders with no direct say in how rangeland is managed. From a policy standpoint, stakeholders in whether and how juniper is (or is not) managed on the Edwards Plateau therefore include not only private landowners — who are bearing the costs and risks associated with today’s management investments — but also those with an interest in wildlife habitat conservation, downstream water users, and future generations. Over 95% of the rangeland on the Edwards Plateau is privately owned, and private ownership of land carries the economic advantage of incentive-compatibility: private landowners are motivated to make the best possible management choices on the land to the extent they feel secure that they (or their heirs) will reap benefits from their investments. Private landowners are often cognizant that postponing desirable long-term investments today — including routine juniper management — can constrain their future options and can compromise their long-run financial viability. Accordingly, private landowners feel pain when financial resources from current uses of rangeland are insufficient to support the management of juniper and other long-term investments which they deem desirable or even necessary to sustain the economic viability of their preferred mix of enterprises and land uses.
From an ecological and an economic standpoint, postponing maintenance investments in brush control on rangelands carries the implicit cost of unrecoverable losses of future options. Beyond some threshold, changes in vegetation composition and associated changes in the soil and water balance become ecologically impossible to reverse. Similarly, past some threshold, it is no longer economically feasible to restore a rangeland system to its previous state and functions. Narrowing the set of possible future land-use options imposes both private and public costs, over the long run.
To the extent that off-ranch stakeholders — specifically, those interested in conservation of wildlife habitat, downstream water users, and future generations — benefit from appropriate levels of investment in juniper management and control, there is a policy argument in favor of publicly-funded cost-sharing to reduce the private burden associated with investment in brush control. Flexible, targeted incentives for brush control are likely to make such private investments workable, where otherwise they have been foregone or postponed. There are two policy dilemmas. First, it is challenging to set the financial incentives paid to private landowners in order to induce the desired levels and patterns of participation in a cost-sharing program while, at the same time, assuring the best possible use of public resources. The second dilemma is maintaining an appropriate private-public balance: private sovereignty over land use decisions is the best known guarantee of long-run incentives for good stewardship. Where private sovereignty has been compromised — notably in the former Soviet Union and in eastern Europe — environmental degradation (often irreversible) has been rampant and severe (Tietenberg 1996). In spite of the strong evidence in favor of private sovereignty, acceptance of public support normally carries an implicit responsibility regarding accountability to public priorities. The daunting challenge, therefore, is to devise a policy-implementation strategy whereby private accountability to the government agencies representing public interests does not involve unacceptable and inefficient compromise of private sovereignty. This policy balance is likely to be difficult to achieve in the Edwards Plateau due to accelerating demographic changes creating gaps between the knowledge and understanding of rural and urban residents.
In an attempt to lay the groundwork for debate and dialogue about these two policy dilemmas among public and private stakeholders, this chapter first develops both an historical and a contemporary profile of the public policies affecting private decisions about land use, including whether and how to manage juniper in the Edwards Plateau, and, second, discusses three sets of unresolved policy issues. The public policies profiled include the federally-funded wool and mohair incentive payment programs, federal cost-sharing for brush control and the Texas Brush Control Act of 1985, the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Texas Private Property Protection Act of 1995, and the Texas provisions for tax easements for land managed as wildlife habitat (H.B. 1358). Unresolved policy issues discussed in this chapter include chronic water scarcity in the Edwards Plateau, changing land use patterns in the Edwards Plateau, and changing perceptions regarding desired land uses across increasingly diverse stakeholders.
Policies affecting range management options
For over a century, ranchers in the Edwards Plateau have grazed goats, sheep and cattle to harvest range vegetation. Two technological innovations introduced in the 1880s played a crucial role in facilitating intensive livestock management, the windmill and barbed wire (Taylor 1994). By the beginning of the twentieth century, a livestock industry was well established as the keystone for economic growth and development on the Edwards Plateau.
Along with most agricultural regions in the Great Plains, the central Texas ranching industry was set back by the joint occurrence of drought
and a nationwide economic depression which spanned over a decade, from the mid-1920s to the late 1930s. During this period, production suffered due to crop and forage losses from drought. Commodity prices were low because consumer purchasing power was depressed due to economic doldrums affecting both urban and rural Americans. Due to this combination of reduced agricultural production and weak commodity prices, farm and ranch families suffered and, in turn, rural economies slowed down. The federal Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933 was passed in an attempt to mediate against this continuing downward spiral. The objectives of the AAA were to support both reliable and sustainable production of food and fiber, as well as rural development and household income stability in agriculture-based communities (Batie 1983, Batie et al. 1986).
Prices of many food and fiber commodities are volatile due to fluctuating supply and demand. Market prices of commodities often do not keep pace with inflation. On the other hand, farm and ranch production costs (the costs of owning land and financing capital equipment, for example) often increase at rates at or above inflation. Accordingly, many of the farm support programs established in 1933 have been sustained through the 1990s. The 1996 farm bill made substantial changes to the intent and the implementation of farm programs. A primary goal of farm policy instruments, beginning with the AAA, has been to establish dependable commodity prices paid to farmers and ranchers, in order to support their efforts to weather commodity price swings. A corollary goal has been to support conservation programs offering incentives for land stewardship which might otherwise be difficult to justify for farmers and ranchers operating in a risky environment. Under the AAA, two federal policies of particular importance to central Texas were initiated, the wool and mohair incentive payment programs and the Great Plains Conservation Program. From 1933 through 1995, on a five-year cycle (in accord with the farm bill re-authorization process), the rules for participation and the payment levels for these two programs have been routinely evaluated and re-authorized.
Wool and mohair incentive payment programs: Income from the sale of livestock-based products has been a primary economic mainstay for ranch families in the Edwards Plateau, starting in the early 1900s through the 1990s. Angora goats were introduced to the U.S. in 1849. Texas accounted for 93% of the U.S. share of 1994 mohair production (Smith et al. 1995a). South Africa and the U.S. compete for world mohair markets. In 1992, the U.S. produced 17.8 million pounds of mohair and South Africa produced 14.2 million pounds. Most Texas-produced mohair — 80% in 1994 — is exported to the United Kingdom for milling. Mohair prices have been volatile in recent years, largely due to fluctuating demand associated with changing fashion trends. Mohair producers were eligible to receive incentive payments every year from 1981 to 1995 because market prices were lower than the price level supported by the mohair incentive payment program. Government payments to mohair producers reached an historical high of $67.9 million in the 1994 fiscal year (Smith et al. 1995a).
American sheep producers are minor players in the world wool market (Smith et al. 1995b). Australia leads wool production internationally, generating about 32% of total world production. The U.S. produces about one percent of the world’s wool. Wool prices paid to American producers are determined primarily by production and marketing decisions in Australia, the former Soviet Union, China, New Zealand, and Argentina. The purpose of the wool incentive payment program has been to assure American sheep producers a dependable price for their wool, thereby shielding them from price risk associated with international competition for markets. Particular provisions governing incentive payments for wool were established in the National Wool Act of 1954 (Rauch 1994).
Both the wool and mohair incentive payment programs were discontinued in 1995. Congressmen in Washington, representing an increasingly urbanized citizenry, criticized farm support programs which served a small minority of rural constituents. Farm programs in general, and the wool and mohair programs in particular, were spotlighted as “a symbol of government’s inability to end anything” (Rauch 1994, p. 205). Discontinuing these programs was the beginning of a wave of efforts to streamline federal farm programs supporting agricultural production, rural development, and land stewardship.
From the 1950s through the 1980s the average total federal budget costs of payments to sheep and goat raisers from the wool and mohair payment had been $200 million per year (Rauch 1994). In Texas, the estimated annual loss in ranch revenues from losing both the wool and mohair programs totaled $25.55 million for the period 1993 through 2000 (Smith et al. 1995a). Due to the large role which sheep and goat production plays in local agricultural economies in the Edwards Plateau, a loss in sales of $61.06 million per year was estimated for the period 1993 to 2000 for Texas, including the loss of an estimated 1164 jobs, due to the discontinuation of the wool and mohair program (Smith et al. 1995a).
Losses of ranch-level income and jobs associated with the cancellation of the wool and mohair incentive payment programs has severely undercut the financial health and future prospects for ranches and communities dependent on sheep and goat enterprises. In the face of financial hardship, ranchers are often motivated to increase livestock stocking rates to try to increase cash flows in the short run in order to survive. Such overstocking often causes degradation of rangelands by changing the composition and the relative productivity of forage grasses and brush species. Over the long run, future livestock carrying capacity is adversely affected, sometimes irreversibly (Taylor 1994). In the short run, this ecological progression is exasperated because financially-stressed ranchers are likely to lack the cash flow required to make routine investments in brush management.
Federal cost-sharing for brush control: The Great Plains Conservation Program, a part of the AAA, was administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) from 1933 to 1995. Landowners were eligible to receive cost-sharing payments of up to $15 per acre for clearing selected tracts of brush (with payments capped at $3500 per year per ranch). A second cost-sharing program, the Braceros Program, was administered from 1942 to 1964 (Craig 1971). This program issued temporary work permits to Mexican laborers to clear juniper on private ranches. The over-riding policy objective of both programs was to sustain rangeland health and productivity over the long run, by offering ranchers an incentive to invest in maintenance-oriented brush control efforts.
In the Edwards Plateau, the deleterious effects of increasing juniper cover and density on livestock carrying capacity were recognized in the 1930s. For example, Jenkins (1939) recounted the case of the Rosa Brothers Ranch, which “once carried a cow to five or six acres, then the cedar crept up” (p. 61), and stocking rates declined to one cow to 25 or 30 acres. A wildfire on several acres of the ranch cleared the juniper and restored range condition to a carrying capacity of a cow to two acres. Ranchers praised the federal government’s support of brush control in the Edwards Plateau: “it is the best program the Government has ever put on and means more to the country than any other move yet attempted” (Jenkins, p. 62).
Texas Brush Control Act: In addition to federally-funded cost-sharing programs to support brush control, in 1985 the Texas legislature approved a targeted program to promote brush control to increase water yield from rangelands. Funding for this brush control program has never been appropriated.
In May, 1985, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 1083, sponsored by Senator Bill Sims of San Angelo, Texas, and created the Texas Brush Control Program. The mandate of the program, administered by the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB), was “to prepare and adopt a state brush control plan including a comprehensive strategy for managing brush in critical areas and the designation of areas of critical need in the state where brush is contributing to a substantial water conservation program” (TSSWCB, p. 1). Senate Bill 1083 also established a brush control fund, “which may be funded from legislative appropriations, money transferred to that fund from other funds, or other money required by law to be deposited in the brush control fund” (TSSWCB, p. 2). Scientists with the TSSWCB developed a draft version of the brush control plan, but the brush control fund required to implement the plan was never established. When this plan was developed, there was insufficient scientific basis for establishing causal linkages between brush control and improved recharge to groundwater and surface waters from rangelands (Griffin and McCarl 1989, Turner 1989). Hydrologic conditions differ across rangelands in Texas, and, accordingly, the effects of brush management on water yields from rangeland also vary. In sum, then as now, implementation of a targeted and cost-effective brush control plan requires sound scientific information about both the ecological relationships between brush control and water yields, as well as the quantity and value of the water conserved.
Endangered species protection: The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (Public Law 93-205, 81 Statute 884; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1543) defined an endangered species as “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” and a threatened species as “likely to become extinct within the foreseeable future.” Under the ESA, protecting an endangered or threatened species means preservation of its habitat. Specifically, the ESA calls for conservation of “the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend.” No single agreed-upon definition of “ecosystem” exists (Grumbine 1994). The ESA defined “taking” as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” A 1995 Supreme Court decision (Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Greater Oregon v. Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Interior) extended the ESA definition of taking to include habitat modification.
Allowable uses of rangelands in the Edwards Plateau are affected — directly and indirectly — by the implementation of the ESA. Twelve plant and animal species whose habitat is the Edwards Plateau and other parts of central Texas are listed as endangered or threatened. Six endangered species are cave-adapted invertebrates; rangeland use does not affect their habitat. Two species whose habitats directly involve rangeland use are songbirds, the black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapillus) and the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia). Four species whose habitats indirectly involve rangeland use (water levels in the Edwards Aquifer) are three animal species and one plant species: the Fountain Darter (Etheostoma fonticola), the Texas Blind Salamander (Typhlomolge rathbuni), the San Marcos Gambusia (Gambusia georgei), and Texas Wild Rice (Zizania texana).
The Edwards Aquifer is a rapid-recharge aquifer which supplies drinking water for approximately 1.5 million people. The aquifer naturally discharges through the San Marcos Springs and the Comal Springs. Springflow is affected by the level of the aquifer which fluctuates according to the rate of recharge and pumping. Rangeland watersheds are the primary source of aquifer recharge. When springflows drop during dry periods — especially when demand is high or recharge is low — there are adverse effects on the habitats of the Fountain Darter, the Texas Blind Salamander, the San Marcos Gambusia, and Texas Wild Rice. Alleged adverse effects on habitat for these four endangered species due to insufficient water levels in the Edwards Aquifer has resulted in a series of lawsuits (beginning in 1993 with Sierra Club v. Lujan and Sierra Club v. Babbitt) promulgated under the ESA (Albritton 1994). These lawsuits challenge not only the implementation procedures of the ESA but also the structure of Texas water law (Baldwin 1993, Albritton 1994, Collinge et al. 1993, Kaiser 1987).
The mosaic of vegetation on rangelands in the Edwards Plateau constitutes habitat for both the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler. The black-capped vireo was listed as endangered in 1987 and the golden-cheeked warbler was listed as endangered in 1990. Ideal black-capped vireo habitat is generated by disturbances (such as fires), and they nest in niches which most often occur on the edges of young stands of brush. Golden-cheeked warbler is the only bird species which breeds solely in Texas. They build their nest with strips of bark from Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei). Suitable strips of bark cannot be peeled away by the golden-cheeked warbler until an Ashe juniper tree is at least 20 years old. Thus the brush which constitutes golden-cheeked warbler habitat occurs in old-growth stands comprised predominately of Ashe juniper. Such stands are often found along the bottoms and sides of old canyons (U.S. FWS 1992, Mann and Plummer 1995).
In the 1980s the population of Austin, Texas, increased by 50%. During this decade, protection of habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo, as well as the six cave-adapted endangered species, was an obstacle to commercial and residential development. The City of Austin and the Texas Nature Conservancy worked together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop a Balconnes Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP), a framework for preserving 120,000 acres of contiguous or connected habitat, as mitigation which would then allow development to proceed in other parts of the metropolitan area (Beatley 1994). Developing the BCCP cost approximately $1 million, and the estimated cost of acquiring the land preserves was $86 million plus $1.5 million per year to maintain the properties (Mann and Plumnmer 1995). The BCCP land acquisition program has not yet been completed due to delays in acquiring the needed funds.
In the interim, in response to pressure from Austin developers and landowners — for the City of Austin only — from 1990 to 1994, the FWS instituted a unique policy instrument. “Bird letters” were issued based on the basis of ecological assessments of property which may be habitat for golden-cheeked warblers and/or black-capped vireos. “To obtain bird letters, landowners surveyed their property and submitted the results to the FWS. If it had no suitable habitat, or if that habitat had been unoccupied for at least three years, the service would send the landowner a quasi-official reply — a bird letter — acknowledging these conditions. Owners then had some assurance that developing their property would not result in charges of taking” (Mann and Plummer, p. 201). Urban property owners with bird letters can develop or manage their property with fewer worries about being accused of taking habitat. On average, a bird letter increased the value of real estate for development by 25% (Mann and Plummer 1995).
Golden-cheeked warbler habitat is found in portions of 33 counties in central Texas. Since golden-cheeked warblers nest in stands of old-growth juniper, landowners in rural counties adjacent to Austin were also anxious to know whether the juniper and mixed brush on their ranches was considered habitat for golden-cheeked warblers. They were concerned that routine juniper management could be considered a taking of habitat under the ESA. The FWS office in Austin was understaffed and unresponsive to requests from rural landowners for bird letters. Furthermore, general information about what constitutes golden-cheeked warbler habitat was not available; the FWS preferred site-specific ecological assessments to determine whether or not a site was considered golden-cheeked warbler habitat.
In early 1994, the FWS was sued by an Austin developer because they had not yet issued a ruling on whether critical habitat would be designated for the golden-cheeked warbler. Such a designation must be made within a year after a species is listed as endangered, thus critical habitat designation should have been decided for the golden-cheeked warbler by October, 1991). Critical habitat designation affects involves only federally-owned lands or projects receiving federal funds, it does not pertain to private lands. Private landowners are liable for taking a species or its habitat, but critical habitat holds federal agencies and federal projects to a higher standard of habitat protection than is expected of private landowner (Rohlf 1989).
The fact that critical habitat designation for the golden-cheeked warbler does not pertain to private land management was overlooked in a media blitz concerning the issue. The San Antonio News-Express ran a front-page story on July 11, 1994, including a map of 33 counties potentially affected by critical-habitat designation for the golden-cheeked warbler (Needham 1994). Immediately, the FWS countered with an information campaign. Their key messages were that federal land only is affected by critical habitat designation, and that only 800,000 acres (of the 20.5 million acres in the 33 counties) were potentially affected (U.S. Department of the Interior 1994).
Private landowners became enraged. If altering habitat is a taking, then they demanded clear guidelines on allowable land management practices and on what constitutes habitat. They argued that controlling juniper trees on rangeland was an essential management activity to maintain its productive capacity. Furthermore, they argued that calling alteration of wildlife habitat a taking was in direct conflict with private property rights. Several sizeable public protests were staged, notably a gathering of over 1,000 people on July 28, 1994, in Llano, Texas (Schreiber 1994) and a march on the capitol in Austin on August 27, 1994, involving an estimated 3,000 demonstrators, many of whom were ranchers and private landowners (Thatcher 1994). The rallying call was protection of private property rights. They demanded consideration of the needs and interests of people, not just endangered species and wildlife habitat.
Political involvement in the dialogues concerning endangered species policy reform and property rights protection issue was bi-partisan during the election campaigns in the fall of 1994. Ultimately, on September 28, 1994, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt announced that no critical habitat would be designated for the golden-cheeked warbler (Elliot and Haurwitz 1994). In retrospect, misinformation and poor communication were major forces in the escalation of public concern in Texas about endangered species policy design and implementation and about the protection of property rights (Dawson 1994). The current ESA expired in 1993 and is due to be re-authorized. Several dilemmas — scientific (National Research Council 1996) and political (Ecological Society of America 1996) — have blocked progress in Congressional discussions about ESA re-authorization and policy reform.
Texas Private Property Protection Act: In the policy formation process, those concerned about environmental regulations over-burdening private landowners have pressured state and federal policy makers to develop protection against unwarranted or egregious takings of private property, resulting in state laws promulgated or proposed in numerous states (Libby 1994). In May, 1995, the Texas legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Senator Teel Bivens (Chapter 27, Texas Government Code). Effective September 1, 1995, if a landowner suffers a 25% reduction in the market value of their property due to the enforcement of a Texas law, then they have standing to sue the government entity who issued the regulation. Citizens must file lawsuits within 180 days of when the landowner knew or should have known about the effect of the regulation on land use. A jury decides whether or not a taking occurred. If the jury decides in favor of the landowner, then “a prevailing landowner may recover reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees and court costs. The government entity has 30 days to pay the judgment or the regulation will be rescinded” (Fambrough 1995). Texas government entities are required to post public notices at least 30 days in advance of any proposed regulation affecting property values. This legislation applies only to damages suffered by Texas property owners due to the implementation of Texas laws by Texas agencies; similar legislation is being developed and debated at the federal level (for example, in 1995, the House representative to Congress from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, sponsored H.R. 925).
Tax incentives to manage agricultural land as wildlife habitat: A positive and proactive approach to public policy involving land use is tax incentives. In November, 1995, Texas voters approved Proposition 11 in a referendum vote. This proposition amended the Texas Constitution “to permit agricultural appraisal for land used to manage wildlife” (Comptroller of Public Accounts, p. 1). Implementation of this constitutional amendment was authorized by the passage of House Bill 1358 by the Texas legislature in May, 1995. Under House Bill 1358, the Comptroller was charged — with assistance from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department — “to issue guidelines to county appraisal districts on qualifying land used to manage wildlife for agricultural appraisal” (Comptroller of Public Accounts, p. 1).
Requirements for land to qualify for property tax exemptions to landowners who are actively involved with wildlife management involve three criteria: first, land must be qualified for agricultural appraisal; second, “land must be used to generate a sustaining breeding, migrating, or wintering population of indigenous wild animals” (Comptroller of Public Accounts, p. 3); and third, the land must be used for three or more (of seven) activities: habitat control, erosion control, predator control, providing supplemental supplies of water, providing supplemental supplies of food, providing shelter, or making census counts to determine population (Comptroller of Public Accounts 1996).
Policies framing rangeland use options: In sum, over the past 70 years, land use patterns and public policies influencing land use choices have evolved considerably. Early this century, over 80% of Texans lived in rural communities and livestock was the dominant force in the predominantly rural economies of the Edwards Plateau. Farm programs initiated in 1933 under the AAA and sustained through subsequent farm bills through 1995 — notably, the wool and mohair incentive payment programs and the Great Plains Conservation Program — supported private landowners who successfully pursued livestock enterprises on their ranches.
More recently, in the decade beginning 1995, policies reflecting a public concern about multiple products from Texas rangelands — notably, water and wildlife habitat — have influenced private landowners’ decisions about land use. Existing water demands on the Edwards Aquifer exceed the long-term supply capacity of the aquifer. This is particularly true during drought periods which are a normal, albeit irregular, aspect of the climate in central Texas. The Texas Brush Control Plan — approved in 1985 but never funded — was a proactive attempt to anticipate water conservation needs for the Edwards Plateau. Similar motives — competition for water between growing urban populations and endangered species which depend on springflows associated with the level of the Edwards Aquifer — triggered lawsuits in the 1990s which are challenging the current system of water allocation in central Texas (Albritton 1994, Collinge et al. 1993).
Policies to promote conservation of wildlife habitat have played an increasingly important role in shaping rangeland management options for the Edwards Plateau. Hunting is an increasingly important ranch enterprise on the Edwards Plateau, and conservation of habitat for endangered species has imposed obligations on a subset of landowners in accord with the habitat conservation provisions of the ESA. Implementation of the ESA in the 1990s in the Edwards Plateau region caused confusion for private landowners, concerned that their routine management of juniper might disturb golden-cheeked warbler habitat. A public vote of confidence in favor of property tax relief to private landowners who voluntarily conserve and promote wildlife habitat is a positive signal of a trend in public priorities favoring conservation on public land. On the other hand, the need for a Texas statute to protect private landowners from state regulations which lower their property values signals that a need for an on-going system to assure checks-and-balances between public priorities and private prerogatives.
Perpetual policy issues and dilemmas
The changing mix of public policies which play a role in the rangeland use options facing landowners in the Edwards Plateau are jointly a response to and spurred by new public priorities regarding environmental quality and natural resource management, and circumstances particular to the Edwards Plateau. The future is likely to be shaped both by past land use choices and priorities, as well as by incremental accommodation of new interests. This evolving process is likely to satisfactorily accommodate diverse and sometimes conflicting public and private preferences to the extent that opportunities exist for informed dialogue and compromise regarding policy options among stakeholders. The context in which such dialogue is occurring is conditioned by rapidly changing demographics and a chronic water scarcity problem in the Edwards Plateau.
Changing land use patterns: Population growth is the most persistent phenomenon affecting rangeland use options and choices on the Edwards Plateau. In 1900, the population of Texas was 80% rural, 20% urban. By 1990, the demographics were reversed: only 20% of Texans lived in rural communities and 80% lived in cities (Thomas 1995). Cities in central Texas have grown dramatically; for example, the population of the city of San Antonio increased by 20% each decade from 1960 through 1990. Rural regions in central Texas are also growing rapidly; the Edwards Plateau is home to increasing numbers of emigrants from urban areas including retirees, weekend residents, and those willing to commute to cities to work. For example, the population of Bandera County increased 49% from 1980 to 1990, from 7,084 residents to 10,562 residents and increased an additional estimated 17% from 1990 to 1994. Similarly, Comal County grew 42% from 1980 to 1990, and increased another estimated 19% from 1990 to 1994. Kendall County, adjacent to the city of San Antonio, grew by 37% from 1980 to 1990, and its population expanded by an estimated 22% from 1990 to 1994 (Texas State Data Center 1994). This growth is expected to continue: from 1995 to 2030, population in the Edwards Plateau is expected to increase by 88% (Conner et al. 1996).
Across Texas and specifically in the Edwards Plateau, the size of an average ranch has declined, particularly in counties adjacent to urban counties. When large ranches are sold, they are split into smaller parcels which are developed for residential and recreational land uses rather than for ranching or agriculture. Net realized farm income in the Edwards Plateau for the period 1969 to 1994 experienced the sharpest long-run decline of any region in the state (Conner et al. 1996). In many cases, the economic cost of land in the Edwards Plateau exceeds the economic returns possible from traditional livestock and hunting enterprises. This downward trend in economic incentives to manage rangeland for livestock grazing has weakened incentives for landowners to control juniper cover and density for the sake of maintaining forage production.
Changing perceptions of desired products from rangelands: Increasingly, emigrants to the Edwards Plateau are interested in recreation and scenic beauty, rather than livestock production. Due to economies of size, the economic feasibility of livestock production and the management of wildlife habitat for hunting is more difficult on small ranches than on large ranches. In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the designation of critical habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler, a poll of real estate brokers in central Texas indicated that environmental amenities associated with wildlife habitat and policies regarding protection of endangered species habitat makes a difference in the attitudes and behavior of buyers and sellers in land markets in the Edwards Plateau (Gilliland 1995). According to anecdotal evidence from conversations with real estate brokers and rangeland management specialists who interact with ranchers and recent emigrants to the Edwards Plateau, many buyers are looking for wooded properties rather than open grasslands. Landowners who plan to sell rangeland within a decade, therefore, may be reluctant to control brush, including juniper, as it might reduce the market value of their property.
Gramman and Whisenant (1994) developed scenic beauty estimation in response to a series of photographs taken of rangeland sites in the Edwards Plateau. Participants in the study ranked the scenic beauty of the photographs without information about the products derived or intended from the different management approaches. A site that had been designated as critical nesting habitat for the endangered black-capped vireo received some of the lowest scenic beauty ratings. At the other end of the continuum, the photograph judged most scenic by the respondents depicted a dense canopy of juniper with a well-defined browse line from goating and a heavily-grazed understory characterized by a dense stand of bitterweed (Hymenoxys odorata), a yellow wildflower which is toxic if consumed by livestock. Trends documented by Gilliland and by Gramman and Whisenant suggest that aesthetic values will increasingly influence land market values and, accordingly, range management decisions.
Chronic water supply deficits in the Edwards Plateau: The Edwards Aquifer supplies water to approximately 1.5 million people. Over the period 1934 to 1993, “observed springflow per unit of recharge has fallen about one percent per year. The reason for this decline is growing water withdrawals which, over the same period, have risen from 18% of long-run average recharge to 81%” (Collinge et al. 1993). The problem with withdrawals exceeding recharges is particularly acute in drought years, like 1996, when the recharge to the Edwards Aquifer was down 20% while usage increased 15% (Kelton 1996). The City of San Antonio cannot meet anticipated growth in water demand, particularly in drought years, with current water sources and storage capacity, but have yet to formulate a management plan which satisfies all stakeholders (Griffin and Chowdhury 1993, Warren 1994, Tutty 1996). New institutional arrangements may be required to accommodate diverse interests and increasing pressure on existing resources.
Improved water yields from rangeland figure prominently into the Texas Water Development Board’s (TWDB) plans for managing water scarcity in the future (TWDB 1990). According to 1990 projections, by 2040 demand for water for municipal and manufacturing purposes will double. To meet increased demand, the TWDB expects “new surface water” to account for approximately seven percent of total water supply needs in 2040. In 1990 new surface water generated 0.5% of the water supply for Texas. Rangeland watersheds are the primary source of recharge for the Edwards Aquifer, thus the amount of new surface water yielded from rangelands in the Edward Plateau will be contingent on land use. Thurow (1997) argued forcefully that juniper management plays a decisive role in water yields from rangelands in the Edwards Plateau.
Conclusions: Landowners and other stakeholders in rangeland management in the Edwards Plateau have several competing interests and priorities. Juniper management is a pivotal determinant of current and future land-use options, involving complex economic and environmental tradeoffs (Thurow et al. 1997). To maintain future options valued by stakeholders who do not own rangeland — such as improved water yields from rangeland — private investments in juniper management are imperative. Perceptions and realities about the interactions between the quality of wildlife habitat and brush cover and density are increasingly important factors in private decisions about whether and how much to control juniper. Yet prospective land values and differentials in the prices of hunting leases associated with juniper cover and density, comb-ined with the weakened financial positions of livestock-oriented ranches, send mixed signals to private landowners about juniper management.
On privately-owned rangelands in the Edwards Plateau, landowners ultimately determine the extent and timing of juniper management. Since the implications of these private choices extend into the future and off the ranch, it may be in the public interest for Texans to revisit the concepts propsed in the Texas Brush Control Act of 1985, in light of theh new information presented during the 1997 Juniper Symposium. Offering publicly-supported cost-sharing for those who voluntarily control juniper on rangelands would expand the range of current and future land-use options for the Edwards Plateau. Ultimately, informed dialogue involving all stakeholders will be required to reach consensus on the most acceptable public-private balance regarding juniper management decisions.
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Comments: Allan McGinty, Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist