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Texas Land Conservancy's newest acquisition - 444-acre Llano County ranch

Texas Land Conservancy Special to the Courier

Joyce Lucas, owner of the Birk-Sommerfeld Heritage Ranch in Llano County, donated a conservation easement on the 444-acre working ranch last December, according to a spokesman for the Texas Land Conservancy. The easement will protect the ranch from the damages of land fragmentation and development.
Administrators with the Texas Land Conservancy (TLC) have partnered with Lucas and her family on the protection of what has been described as an "outstanding property, which has both ecological and historical value to Texas and its people." This property represents the 102nd conservation project, bringing the total protected acreage to 75,342.
The Birk-Sommerfeld Heritage Ranch, which has been in the Birk family since 1876, has a classic history for the Hill Country. Once a 1,600-acre working ranch, the property has been passed down and subdivided among descendents until only Joyce's 444-acre parcel and a cousin's several-hundred acre parcel remain in the family. The conservation easement donated on Joyce's land will forever protect these acres from further subdivision.
Over the past decade, Llano County has been hard hit by land fragmentation, resulting in an overall loss of agricultural lands, rising land values and decreasing habitat for native plant and animal communities.
According to the Texas Land Trends study, which used data from 1997-2007, by the American Farmland Trust and Texas A&M's Institute for Renewable Natural Resources, Llano County has seen a 40 percent population increase in a decade.
This growth rate is twice as fast as the state as a whole for the same time period. Additionally, land values in Llano County have increased 213 percent in 10 years - more than twice the increase seen state-wide. As a result, large ranches tend to be broken up into smaller pieces to pass down to children, sell to developers or simply make some extra cash.
From 1997-2007, the number of one- to 100-acre properties has increased two-fold, while 500- to 1000-acre and 2000-acre-plus properties have decreased in number. This allows a 444-acre ranch like Birk-Sommerfeld to have a significant impact on the future landscape of Llano County and the Hill Country.
In 1999, the ranch received Centennial Ranch status from the Texas Department of Agriculture, recognizing the ranch's importance to the landscape of rural Texas.
The Family Land Heritage Program honors farms and ranches that have been in continuous agricultural operation by the same family for 100 years or more.
The program is designed to recognize and chronicle the unique history of Texas agriculture and the men and women who settled this great state and continue the tradition today.
With the gently rolling topography and granite outcrops typical of the Hill Country, the Ranch features several native plant communities including Oak Savanna, Floodplain Woodland, and Riparian Woodland and Savanna.
These communities are typical for Hill Country ranches that have not been overly disturbed by development or land fragmentation. This conservation easement also protects significant water resources, including 3,500 feet of the Llano River, and 4,500 feet of Vasterling Creek. Protection of these waterways is beneficial to the water quantity and quality of the entire drainage way, particularly downstream.
The Birk Family Cemetery is located on the ranch as well, and is a valuable historic resource of the Hill Country and the state.

Pictured: The Birk Family Cemetery, located on the Birk-Sommerfeld Heritage Ranch in Llano County, will serve as a valuable historic resource for the Hill Country and the State of Texas.