Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Value of Open Spaces

I grew up in the Texas Panhandle - an area known for its wide open spaces. My grandfather bought and sold land regularly, but I still have two of the pieces of land - one a working farm and one native grassland, never plowed. My children grew up making yearly visits to visit both sets of grandparents in Amarillo. My mother always took them to see the farm and to visit the ranch and the cattlemen who leased the grasslands and their feedlot. I promise you, their feedlot was not smelly . . . my memories include the smell of cooked sweet feed.

When you are out in the rural areas of the Texas panhandle you can hear the wind blow. You can hear the windmill as it goes about the business of pumping water for the cattle. There are birds up there. I want to go and spend more time photographing some of them. It is quiet and peaceful in a way that is hard to explain. The land is so flat, it feels like you can see forever. At night due to the dry climate and lack of city lights, the stars are incredibly beautiful.

The passing of time always brings changes. Amarillo is growing to the west, swallowing up ranchland slowly but surely. My farm is east of Amarillo. Growth is coming, but slowly. My farm is right on the highway, so I know that some day, perhaps twenty or thirty years from now, it will likely be commercial property, but that is a long way off. I remember when my grandfather bought the farm, I was about five - so it's been in the family for fifty years. The ranch was the third ranch I remember my granddad buying. He tended to buy land when the interest rates were low and sold it when a good buyer came along. The Vega ranch and the farm he kept. WInd farms are springing up all over the panhandle. The land just to the north of mine has recently installed them. Because the panhandle is an area with consistent winds, a lot of open space will look different. Hopefully, the birds the antelope, and the small critters will be able to coexist with these gently moving blades.

When I was at NANPA when it was in Denver, I got to hear John Fielder talk about things being done in Colorado to preserve the open spaces. The Colorado Conservation Partnership has found unique ways to preserve open space in Colorado. If I understand correctly, they have raised funds and purchase development rights from farmers and ranchers. The land is protected and the land owners still receive the value comparable to what they might have received if they had developed the land for commercial or residential uses.

I've been working on a project with ranchers in the Central Texas area, The Texas Hill Country Nature Photography Alliance. There are number of ranchers who have dedicated their land for conservation purposes. They are providing habitat for some of the endangered species that are present in the hill country. They have set things up for photographers and perhaps birders to help fund their conservation efforts. I have been privileged to visit two of these ranches,The Petersen Ranch and Block Creek Natural Area. I hope to visit more and spend some time photographing the beauty in nature found there.

David Langford is one of the owners of the Block Creek Natural Area. This land has been in his family longer than my land and he has been a good steward of the land. He has written an editorial about the value and importance of the preserving open spaces, 'Land Stewards understand Value of Open Space.. The link he sent is from the Amarillo paper, my hometown. But it is appearing in newspapers around Texas. I live in Williamson county where open space has been disappearing very rapidly over the last twenty years. In fact, at one point I had heard that we were the county in Texas losing farmland the fastest. Because I've watched so much farmland and grassland turn into small tract lots, I think that what he says is worth reading and thinking about.

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