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Texas Sees Significant Decline in Rural Land

Texas Sees Significant Decline in Rural Land

The vast majority of Texas land — 83 percent — is part of a farm, ranch or forest. But Texas is losing such rural land more than any other state, in large part because of the exploding growth of metropolitan areas, according to newly released data. 

Scientists say that has serious implications for Texas' water supply because such acreage — known as "working lands" or "open space" lands — helps the state retain water resources by letting rain infiltrate the ground and circulate into aquifers. 

The map below shows the results of the latest Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources survey on land trends, which is performed every five years. According to the survey, Texas lost about 1 million acres of open space lands between 1997 and 2012. Click on a county in the map below to see how its open space acreage has changed. 


A majority of the land loss happened in the growing urban areas around Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. 

“Those lands are basically providing a public benefit in terms of water storage” and aquifer recharge, said Roel Lopez, director of the A&M institute and a co-author of the survey. “A good pastureland is like a sponge, versus a parking lot, which is actually like a rock. That rain just runs off, and it’s hard to capture it.”

At the same time, the market value of land is increasing in almost every Texas county, but it’s increasing the most in the booming metropolitan areas. Travis County, for example, lost almost a quarter of its open space while land gained an average of $8,297 per acre in value between 1997 and 2012. Click on a county in the map below to see the changes in market value. 


In Texas, where more than 95 percent of land is privately owned, there are unique challenges for the conservation of open space lands. As land gets more expensive, those who own open spaces will have more of an incentive to sell their acres to developers. And governments trying to conserve land by buying up open spaces will have to spend more money to do so. 

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.