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Easement protects Spicewood Ranch acreage, habitat from development

Spicewood Ranch

The Hill Country Conservancy and Spicewood Ranch partnered to protect 561 acres of the ranch’s land through a conservation easement. Courtesy photo

As Austin pushes westward along the Texas 71 corridor, protecting land from development is becoming more critical to conservationists. The Hill Country Conservancy and Spicewood Ranch took a big step in doing just that with a conservation easement on about 561 contiguous acres of ranch land.

The conservancy and Chris Harte and son Will Harte of Spicewood Ranch announced the partnership Tuesday, June 29. The move permanently protects the acreage from development.

“With over 95 percent of Texas’ land being privately owned, we are incredibly dependent on the efforts of stewards like the owners of Spicewood Ranch for their care of the region’s water resources, iconic Texas wildlife and our unique quality of life,” stated Frank Davis, the conservancy’s chief conservation officer. “The decades-long stewardship of Spicewood Ranch is now assured forever thanks to the commitment of Chris Harte and his son Will to preserve the land permanently. We are also grateful to the Damuth Foundation for funding they contributed to make this possible.”

A conservation easement basically is “used to conserve a property in its natural state while allowing a landowner to retain many rights, including ownership of the property,” according to the conservancy’s website.

The Spicewood Ranch tract is located within the Colorado River and Lake Travis watersheds and includes about 3 miles of Alligator Creek. The land also holds other streams, springs, and seeps that contribute to the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer.

Plus, the ranch has a variety of terrain and wildlife habitat. 

According to the conservancy, many of the wildlife found on the Spicewood Ranch fall under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

The Spicewood Ranch acreage under the easement is in great health, officials noted, but it hasn’t always been like that. In 1972, the Harte family began to build the property from fractured parcels of land. Much of the land was heavily overgrazed and suffered from severe erosion.

Chris Harte’s late wife, Kay Wagenknecht-Harte, played a key role in the effort. The family acquired 30 pieces of property over 47 years to bring Spicewood Ranch to its current size.

The family also transitioned from traditional ranching to protecting and restoring native habitat. Wagenknecht-Harte passed away in 1997. 

The ranch earned the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lone Star Land Steward Award in 2018 and the Travis Audubon Society’s Victor Emanuel Conservation Award in 2019.

“I’ve wanted to protect Spicewood Ranch for decades, but only in recent years have we made enough progress with our restoration efforts and with buying enough of the 15 or so parcels of land in this 561-acre easement to make it possible to protect a reasonable tract of land,” Chris Harte stated. “I sincerely appreciate the hard work of the Hill Country Conservancy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation program that made this easement possible.”

Visit the conservancy’s website for more information on its mission or on conservation easements.