The Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources has unveiled a new comparison component to the Texas Land Trends database that will help public and private decision makers make more informed decisions about conservation of working rural lands in Texas, according to an official at the institute.

Texas is home to more than 142 million acres of private farms, ranches and forest lands, thus leading the nation in land area devoted to privately-owned working lands. These lands account for 84 percent of the state's entire land area and provide substantial economic, environmental and recreational resources to the benefit of the state's entire population.

 Members of the institute's Land Information System demonstrated the new tool that compares land use, market value, population and ownership size side-by-side for different regions of the state at a recent Land Trends workshop in San Antonio, organized by the Texas Agricultural Land Trust.

 The Texas Land Trends database, www.texaslandtrends.org, is an interactive website detailing current land-use trends within the state. The institute and American Farmland Trust developed the database and website.

 Amy Snelgrove, the institute's land information manager, said the new component allows users to compare specific trends such as ownership within a county to the river basin it falls in, along with statewide trends.

 "As conservation planners use Texas Land Trends to make informed decisions, the need to compare different regions within the state side-by-side has become increasingly important," said Snelgrove, who also is a geographic information system specialist for Texas AgriLife Research.

 According to accumulated data from county appraisal districts, from 1997 to 2007 more than 2.1 million acres of farms, ranches and forestlands were converted to other uses.

 "Approximately 40 percent of this land conversion was related to growth and development associated with population expansion in the state's 25 highest growth counties," said Blair Fitzsimons, Texas Agricultural Land Trust executive director. "During this period, 861,765 acres were lost from the agricultural land base in these counties."

 Fitzsimons said this rapid urbanization and fragmentation threaten Texas' $73 billion agriculture industry, its sources of drinking water, and the habitat upon which a $10.9 billion wildlife-recreation industry depends.

 "Large-scale infrastructure projects are also often planned with little analysis of the public costs—economic, social and environmental—of losing vibrant rural lands, Fitzsimons said.”This new tool, along with the amount of useful information already available through Texas Land Trends, will help stakeholders define focus areas for long-term strategic planning."

Sponsors of the project are The Brown Foundation, Houston Endowment, Shield-Ayers Foundation, Magnolia Charitable Trust and The Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation.