The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) awarded a four-year, $4 million America the Beautiful grant to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to support the PLJV partnership – including Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Nebraska Land Trust, New Mexico Land Conservancy, Ranchland Trust of Kansas, and Texas Agricultural Land Trust – in conserving more than 250,000 acres of grassland. The Southern High Plains Grassland Protection, Restoration and Enhancement Project will enable the five land trusts to share best practices across the region and to permanently protect working grasslands for the benefit of wildlife and people.
Through this project, the partners will work together to implement land protection that benefits at-risk wildlife, expands habitat connectivity, provides a range of ecosystem services, engages local communities, and contributes to their economies.
This project is the result of over three decades of PLJV’s granting work with ConocoPhillips, setting the stage for an active partnership of land trusts to collaborate on best practices and strategies for overcoming environmental and political challenges to their work. In 2022, PLJV hosted an inaugural roundtable discussion where the land trusts in the PLJV ConocoPhillips Land Trust Program brainstormed different ways of collaborating across their respective boundaries.
“We quickly realized that the distinct characteristics of each land trust grantee – including differences in capacity, amount of intact grasslands, parcel size, and protection laws and regulations – had the potential to make more of a lasting impact as a formal partnership, and the NFWF America The Beautiful grant program was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that,” said Andrew Mackintosh, PLJV Business Director.
Mackintosh then worked with our four existing grantees and one additional partner – Nebraska Land Trust – to develop the joint project proposal, with Texas Parks and Wildlife as the state lead. The partners will be working to implement the following objectives over the next four years:
- Accelerate grassland protection by supporting transactional, acquisition, and stewardship costs of new easements.
- Invest in regional outreach to landowners to encourage enrollment in permanent conservation easements.
- Restore and manage grassland to maintain high-quality blocks of grass for the benefit of wildlife.
Through this project, the partners will work together to implement land protection that benefits at-risk wildlife, expands habitat connectivity, provides a range of ecosystem services, engages local communities, and contributes to their economies. While an ambitious project, its goals are achievable thanks to the combined expertise of the partners, each with their own unique strengths. The project also supports PLJV’s ongoing development and improvement of GIS models for targeting, prioritization, and accounting of conservation impact. See the map for grassland blocks in our region where this project will focus.
“Our intent under both the PLJV ConocoPhillips Land Trust Program and the NFWF America The Beautiful grant has been to empower our land trust partners to deliver conservation according to the unique characteristics of their region while aligning their work toward a common purpose. We are happy to report that that is exactly what is happening,” says PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter.
Below you can learn more about what each major partner will be doing as part of this project.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
As the lead state agency, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is hosting the award. They will disburse the project’s funds while also continuing to play a key role in helping guide the partnership in achieving its habitat protection goals. A special thanks goes to them for supporting our grant application to NFWF.
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) will secure the perpetual conservation of 60,000 acres of ranch land and deliver more than 15,000 acres of additive grassland restoration (e.g., native grass reseeding and invasive woody plant management) in eastern Colorado. CCALT has nine conservation easement projects in various stages of development and more than eight landowners looking to implement additive conservation projects on their properties. There are also additional opportunities for this additive conservation work to overlap with playa conservation projects, with 18 conservation easements spanning more than 55,000 acres that intersect with PLJV-identified playas.
Nebraska Land Trust
Nebraska Land Trust (NLT) will develop and implement an annual communications plan which strategically increases awareness of NLT and conservation easements, with a goal to protect 10,000 new acres. One focus area will be to expand landowner communications in order to facilitate cooperative projects for grassland management, such as control of invasive eastern redcedar trees, and another focal area will be to provide resource information on permanent conservation easements to address perceived barriers and encourage additional enrollment. Nebraska is one of only three states that require county approval on conservation easements.
New Mexico Land Conservancy
Currently, New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) has 130 conservation easements, 17 of which protect 115,000 acres of prairie grassland across eastern New Mexico. NMLC will leverage this success to acquire at least 80,000 acres of new easements in the targeted area. Their work will include planning, outreach and implementation of new conservation easements and other associated restoration projects to permanently protect and sustain the health of grasslands in the Southern High Plains.
Ranchland Trust of Kansas
Ranchland Trust of Kansas (RTK) will create expansion opportunities to complement 22 existing easements and 16,850 acres protected through private landowner collaboration across the state. As a nonprofit agricultural land trust and affiliate of the second largest livestock association in the country, RTK will maximize relationships with private landowners and conservation entities to employ a co-designed process between program partners and users. Technical activity will include the establishment of range and grassland easements with additive wetland restoration when applicable.
Texas Agricultural Land Trust
Texas Agricultural Land Trust (TALT) will acquire 100,000 acres in new conservation easements in Texas and Oklahoma. In addition to their efforts to protect working lands, TALT is also embarking on additive conservation through ecosystem service markets to provide new tools and resources to landowners. These markets focus on recognizing the value of working lands and compensating landowners for their contributions to society, nature, and more. TALT will help accelerate the development and adoption of voluntary ecosystem services markets in a way that builds on its current work to protect farm and ranch land through conservation easements.
Playa Lakes Joint Venture
Under this project, Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) will provide administrative and technical support to assist the partnership achieve its goals. PLJV will be serving as a liaison between TPWD, NFWF and our land trust partners. We will also be providing technical capacity to assist land trusts in identifying areas that have high values for regional habitat conservation as well as tracking and accounting for impacts of the project. By increasing the regional conservation impacts of easements through targeting and conveying these impacts via tracking and accounting, PLJV will work to identify opportunities to sustain and build upon this project to achieve our land protection goals.