Can Texas Cities Preserve the Piney Woods?

East Texas is famous for its piney woods, saw mills, and conservative politics. Can Texas cities help east Texas preserve its heritage?

Big Thicket National Preserve, Lance Rosier Unit, Hardin County, Texas, USA, by William L. Farr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Big cities in Texas routinely push development into undeveloped areas for their suburban growth, and have sprawl-oriented development patterns that contribute to local ozone issues and traffic problems. This growth pattern is almost certainly unsustainable, and more effort should be focused on redevelopment of existing areas to allow more people and businesses to be inside of cities instead of on their outskirts. This is a hard problem to solve, but is worth doing, and the kind of efforts that excite us at Goff Policy – people focused problems of great complexity but big public benefit.

In the meantime, Texas cities could work together to acquire land in east Texas to preserve existing piney wood habitat.

Using bond money or tax revenue, or by using carbon cost fees from natural gas or coal fired power plants (from Austin or San Antonio), cities could work together to create a plan to buy and preserve forests in east Texas to reduce sprawl opportunities and restore forestland and protect potential carbon sinks. These cities could allow some recreational use of these areas, but also preserve them as wilderness, to be managed in perpetuity as wildlands.

The comparative cost of acreage in rural east Texas is much lower than land in and near the major cities in the state, conservation work create additional jobs in the region, and a minimal amount of ongoing timber sales could fund the ongoing costs of operations and maintenance of the preserves. The portion that is used as timberlands could also act as a hedge against construction costs that can be a significant driver to cost of housing in urban areas. With a generational perspective, land could be acquired as it becomes available for sale, and pieced together over decades.