The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has acquired a conservation easement on 1,640 acres owned by landowner Gary Krause, preserving its unique natural features for future generations.
The easement was funded in part by the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program, overseen by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Mr. Krause donated part of the value of the easement as a charitable contribution.
Located in Real County, the Krause Ranch features hundreds of natural springs creating a five-mile-long aquatic network feeding the West Frio River, which flows through the ranch. The springs and the river host several species of aquatic life only found in pristine, undisturbed conditions. These species disappear as the waters flow to developed areas.
The ranch also features dinosaur footprints, fossils, parts of a historic 1800’s wagon trail, signs of Native American habitation, and innumerable species of flora and fauna unique to Texas.
The conservation easement details perpetual development restrictions which the Krause family and any future owners must follow, preserving the natural features of the property and limiting human impact.
“This was a great opportunity for USDA-NRCS to partner with the Krause family and other conservation minded partners to protect working agriculture lands in the Texas Hill Country from future non-agriculture use developments,” said Darren Clark, NRCS easement program manager. “The conservation easement further provides a means for preserving traditional farm and ranch values as well as protecting the natural resources.”
“The Krause Ranch is a great example of the Texas Farm and Ranch Land Conservation Program’s primary mission; a working ranch, a prolific watershed in the Edwards Aquifer contributing zone, home to several species of concern, and a landowner dedicated to protecting the resource,” said Chris Abernathy, who manages the TPWD program.
Both the NRCS and TPWD programs are designed to conserve private land, especially productive farms and ranches which are valuable for sustaining native wildlife and the health of natural watersheds. TPWD botanists, biologists, geologists and hydrologists have been studying the ranch and have identified rare and threatened species. A long-term study of one spring alone has shown that it supplies over a billion gallons of water a year to the Frio River.
NRCS has assessed the grasslands on the ranch and will continue to advise optimum grazing and brush management. “We are constantly undoing the damage of the past,” Krause said. “Without the buffalo, cattle grazing is better for the land than no grazing at all. Cedar has taken over the grasslands resulting in loss of topsoil, springs drying up and the disappearance of some creeks and rivers. For each acre of land cleared of cedar, the streamflow of the creeks and rivers can supply an additional 500 gallons of water a year into the Edwards Aquifer, which is the primary source of water for San Antonio.”
“The springs on Krause Ranch are a true Texas treasure,” added Sky Lewey, resource protection and education director at the Nueces River Authority.
TNC holds the easement and will be responsible for perpetually monitoring and enforcing the agreement with scheduled access to the site subject to the landowner’s wishes. Sustainability and minimal impact are key to the conservation of the property and its resources.
Gary Krause will continue to own and operate the ranch. “Most of the past 35 years was spent earning the money to purchase the land as I searched for interest from different organizations,” Krause said. “There are numerous organizations dedicated to land preservation and conservation. I kept inquiring until I found this program. It is a 4-way partnership with USDA, TPWD, TNC, and the landowner that is sustainable and beneficial for all parties.”
“Gary Krause acquired this ranch to conserve it, recognizing that it’s an example of the Hill Country at its most scenic and most natural,” said David Bezanson, TNC’s protection and easement manager. “We’re very honored that he chose to work with us to accomplish that lifetime goal.”
Texas A&M University Press is interested in publishing a book featuring the Krause Ranch story. The book will feature work of three noted photographers showing the ranch’s beauty and a narrative by well-published Texas historian Thad Sitton describing the settlement of the area and Krause’s stewardship. The book is expected to be published in 2021.