When people think of environmental activism or activities to protect the environment, land conservation may not be the first thing that comes to mind. We discuss what conservation easements are, how they can impact landowners as well as the public, the benefits of land conservation and why it’s so important to our ecosystem. This tool could even be used by John Dutton to protect his ranch without killing so many people! George Cofer has dedicated the last 23 years of his life and career to Hill Country Conservancy, which he founded, and has created conservation easements for 40,000 acres of land in Texas.
Check out Hill Country Conservancy – www.hillcountryconservancy.org
Pretty ok (not great) transcript:
This is Jess and Mason with the mostly green life, the podcast that’s making sustainability and our connection to the environment. More fun and approachable for the eco curious today, we’re chatting with George Cofer legendary environmentalist in Texas and founder of the hill country Conservancy about a unique way to protect the environment conservation easements.
Have you often wondered how John Dutton from Yellowstone could preserve his ranch without killing so many people? We have keep listening to learn more.
So, if I’m not mistaken, when I was searching for back more background information on you, I couldn’t find a single podcast. This is the first podcast
[00:00:09] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: you’ve done. As far as I know it is, you know, we’re, we’re breaking new ground, new air
[00:00:14] Mason: wipes. Well, amazing. We’re honored to have you on. And all it took was a promise of some tequila
[00:00:20] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I’ll try and that you know
[00:00:22] Mason: me well, I’ve considered George a mentor for a long time, whether he knew he was mentoring me.
And a role model for enjoying life and working for the environment. George has dedicated the last 23 years of his life and career to the hill country Conservancy, which he founded and has created conservation easements for what’s the latest number of George, how many acres?
[00:00:44] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Again, with our partners, we’re finally getting close to 40,000 acres,
[00:00:47] Mason: 40,000 acres of land in Texas conserved.
So let’s start by talking about what a conservation easement.
[00:00:56] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: So simply put a conservation easement is an agreement with a land owner, a family, uh, entered into voluntarily by the family that says here’s what they can do with the property. And. Those are called reserve rights. So it’s very important that a family reserve rights to add a new home or divide the property for their kids or add a horse arena.
You know, it’s, it’s interesting to sit down with a family and get them to think about 200 years from now because the gang conservation easements run in perpetuity. It’s a fascinating concept. Yeah. Most families know what they want to do with the property for the next 50 years. But after that, I hadn’t really thought that through.
So they reserved the rides. The other part of the conservation easement says these are the rights of families giving up. So for example, they give up the right to chop it up into five acre tracks. W we’re not opposed to that. It’s just not our program.
[00:02:06] Jess: Gotcha. From that explanation. One of our follow-up questions was how is that different from national parks or state parks.
And I guess that the easements are owned by a family and the parks are owned by the government. Would that be the main difference?
[00:02:20] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Yes, that’s correct. Yeah. This is private land. Stewardship is the way we say it. 97% of Texas is owned by private land owners. Uh, very unlike the Western states where you have a lot of federal and public lands, right.
So We want to provide the same benefits to the public that lands provide clean water, clean air, dark skies, wildlife habitat. You can imagine all the benefits, but honestly, sometimes there is, it’s a bit challenging to get a broad public constituency done. Understand that by preserving someone’s private land, that the public benefits.
It seems obvious perhaps to the three of us, because we live in the world of environmental. We care about the environment, but that’s not obvious to everyone.
[00:03:13] Mason: Interesting. Yeah. Cause when I first heard of it back in the Greenland days, we did some partnerships seemed obvious to me, but I guess, you know, public can’t go to it.
And so they can’t go enjoy the land. And so they’re preserving it literally for the benefit of. The environment.
[00:03:30] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Yes. And we went to arrange the other day and took a donor out there and walked right up to one of the caves that goes down into the Edward soccer for. I had a video with me from the last time it rained.
It did rain in Texas. And actually this was a long time goes, um, January of 2015, and the water was just roaring into this cave directly into the aquifer. And so once somebody sees that connection between land conservation, water, cloth. Yeah,
[00:04:08] Mason: that makes
[00:04:09] Jess: sense. Can you talk about some of the benefits and a bit more detail?
[00:04:13] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Sure. So we’ve, we’ve talked about land and water. Um, let me back up and say the conservation easements that we do, the agreements that are recorded at the courthouse, they’re legal documents. Of course, they’re done under a federal statute. There is a state conservation easement law, but all the work we do is under the federal statute.
The reason I clarify that is because it, the laws spills out conservation purposes.
So conservation easement agreements are done under a federal statute and that federal statute lays out all the conservation values. That’s what we call the public benefits.
Or as I like to say, mother nature, providing good stuff. And so. We talked about water. We’ve talked about the clean land wildlife habitat is certainly something that hill country Conservancy works with landowners to improve, to enhance and landowners love these programs. Uh, one land owner wanted to restore a.
So we, we got some quail lakes, perse, and some grass experts and worked through that.
[00:05:27] Jess: And so the landowners, they can go to you guys for guidance and assistance. Doing whatever they would like with the land?
[00:05:34] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Yes. Okay. So we think of ourselves as a resource. We have scientists on staff. Um, one I like to talk about is scenic vistas someday.
Gold fund the staffer who wrote scenic vistas into the conservation easement law. Just think it was very forward. Thinking know this was 70 years ago that they wrote that it’s new to Texas in the last 25 years. But in other parts of America, they’ve got controversial. These ones now that are, have been in place a long time.
So anyways thing, vistas and the. Last, but not least dark skies. So that, of course, it’s just becoming more and more important. And, and people, we all now begin to understand the health benefits of not having submitted nine Clarien lights at night, uh, ranchers don’t need all those lights signal.
This is dark skies, wildlife water, and then. Keeping people in ag, I mean the U S department bag. It had a great tagline. I wish they kept it, keeping people in ag in ag. Now we riffed on that a little bit and we call it, keep the hill country country. So obviously for food production, that’s something you guys know a lot about.
And we understand. The value of helping landowners continue to grow food in a clean environment.
[00:07:06] Mason: Is it regulated by the same group as national parks and all the other environmental protection? Or is it kind of a, just a silo in the legal code
[00:07:17] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: silos? Good word for it. Sometimes I wish the silos talk with one another, but yes, it’s different, very different, uh, Parker in department of interior.
And so our programs under the U S department of ag. Oh, okay.
[00:07:34] Mason: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Stepping Back. How did hill country Conservancy come about? I feel like there was, I remembered a story about a specific problem or a moment in time that kind of spurred the creation of it.
[00:07:49] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: correct. Um, part of what I think makes hill country Conservancy unique is the way we evolved out of what we’re referred to openly. Then as the peace talks, it really was. That sounds dramatic. Here we are. All these years later decades later. But during the cyber Springs, there is in Austin, particularly.
I mean, specifically when the voters of Austin approved the Cypress Springs ordinance, it was a citizen led initiative, went to the voters. Um, I happened to know the date. It was a big moment, August 8th, 1992, about two thirds of the voters said, yeah, We want to limit things like impervious cover. We want the land development code to be part of the toolkit that protects the waters of Texas, especially central Texas.
That became litigious and controversial. Um, and I’ll say that, um, sort of in an understated way, it was a time in, in the civic life in Austin, Texas, when nothing else was discussed. I know all this sounds crazy here. All these decades later. I give Kirk Watson a lot of. Cart became mayor in 1998. And it was really hard to do anything at city hall.
There was just so much controversy about. Water protection. Also two endangered species have been listed. The Barton Springs salamander got listed that’s all in the early 1990s. So we were reading headlines out of the greater Austin chamber of commerce. Not exaggerating that the city of Austin will go broke.
If these laws are upheld in the courts, that we would go bankrupt. Totally was there. Wow. Position. So it was a very serious matter. And then mayor Kirk Watson, um, I would say he gently forced us into her conference room. Uh, some of the. Leaders in the community on both the business side and the environmental side.
I don’t like talking about sides anymore. We’re, we’re, we’re smarter now. We worked together, but back then, it was very much a messing them thing. And so out of those peace talks a year and a half. Came with 17 page peace agreement really internally. It sounds crazy. It was called a peace treaty. And there was a paragraph that I wrote that said no matter what, we all agree that preserving land preserving Austin’s beauty is good for the economy and the.
And let’s start a land trust. None of us knew what that was.
[00:10:46] Mason: That’s amazing. And so that land trust is hill country
[00:10:50] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Conservancy.
[00:10:51] Mason: And did they, did you get anointed the head of hill country Conservancy or you stuck your hand up?
[00:10:57] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Listen, this is such an old, tired joke, but I missed a meeting. I really
[00:11:03] Jess: feel like he’s going to do it.
[00:11:05] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: There was, uh, Every Wednesday, these steering committee, a tiny steering committee met at last. My needs is on Congress avenue and we’d talk about, okay, what’s the Lantos, what are we going to call it?
How are we going to do this, uh, company at that time? Then Austin in viral media was helping with the branding, donated the entire branding and. And I missed a meeting and I got a call that night and said your executive director, by the way, you start really soon.
[00:11:36] Mason: I think he’s, um, the legend of George Cofer though is that he is the one that was able to.
Really get the, the sides talking to each other is what I’ve heard of Mr. George Cofer. And that he was selected because he was the one who understood both the re could talk to, but the real estate side and the environmentalist where a lot of those people couldn’t be, couldn’t actually be in the same room for very long.
So you need their need to confirm nor deny that legend. But that is a legend of George Cofer that he was the one that was. To talk to everyone and is likely why you got anointed.
[00:12:12] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: One of the best compliments I ever got was from someone who I would say, um, took a hard line on environmental protection.
And he said, George, we can tell if you’re an ambassador or a trader some bitch. So I was happy with that. Sweet. Yeah.
[00:12:31] Mason: Yeah. There’s a lot of times in business dealings, people are like, well, I’m not happy. And I’m like, as long as the other side is not a happy, then it a good deal.
[00:12:44] Jess: So I imagine the pros outweigh the cons for land conservation. Um, but I imagine there are some cons for some people, whether you agree with them or not, could you maybe elaborate on what you would think those would be?
[00:12:56] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Absolutely. And again, it’s real important for a family done. Understand what I downside might be.
Um, I’ve mentioned imperpetuity these agreements that are filed at the courthouse or the courts have upheld. So. For example, and I don’t ever want to think pessimistically, but if a ranch were to burn thousand acres, totally wiped out. In my mind, the conservation easement, the terms of that may not make sense anymore.
So it’s really, you just kinda mend these things easily. I’ll give you another example. Let’s say you and your family decide to. Do a conservation easement on your property because you have really good habitat for the golden cheek. Horrible. And I hope we never see it, but, well, actually I do hope the golden cheek warbler gets delisted because that means they’re going to be plenty of them.
Um, but if the purpose of the conservation easement with you and your family was to protect the habitat of the golden cheek Hornberger and we no longer need that protection. We’ll see again, this is relatively new. thinking about the restrictions on our property, over the long-term, we’re going to find new stuff.
in Texas, will we have an opportunity for families to make a lot of money growing marijuana? Probably. I think so. So has the agreement reserve the rights to do that agriculture? So it’s important. Think about that. Oh no. Can
[00:14:39] Jess: I ask a question for these easements? they have to go in it with a specific
[00:14:44] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: purpose.
Yes. So the conservation values that are laid down in the federal statute, the land that is being. Conserve the subject property, we call it of a conservation easement. A family ranch has to have some conservation values. some people put them on golf courses and, and thankfully the industry, um, met with Congress and said, that’s a.
Bad use of this, of this whole program. And so we don’t do that anymore, but people were getting big tax benefits from putting an easement on a golf courses. So it’s got to be, it has to have a legitimate conservation value, as we said, it’s got to provide public some good.
[00:15:28] Jess: And so can they change what that is?
Or that’s, what’s so hard to change. So if a, if a family want it to start growing marijuana, but it wasn’t part of the. But they not be allowed to
[00:15:38] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: that’s correct. Okay. So the way we addressed that to add flexibility to the agreements is the land management plan, the wildlife plan, those are separate documents.
So the easement itself can be very specific, but it will say, and the land management plan. Must be updated every five years. Simply put, we want to make sure that the agreements do not deprive a family of some unknown revenue source. Regardless of what one thinks of wind farms, I don’t have a position on them.
I don’t, I’m not a scientist. most conservation easements as written today would not allow when. The other downside, you got to have an attorney, really smart people write 70 page documents. So you gotta have good counsel, a good estate planners. I mean, this is an important, important decision for a family.
That’s not necessarily, that’s, it’s a good thing to have counsel, but we make it really clear. To families early on that are going to have to be professionally represented.
[00:16:55] Jess: Good. Well, I didn’t realize or recognize what the cons would be, so that was great.
[00:17:01] Mason: And so do you have a strong team of lawyers as part, or do you partner. And do you have people run pro bono? I’d imagine this is very noble legal
[00:17:10] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: work. It is very noble legal work, and I’m going to refrain from naming some, but they’re, they’re very generous and very good at conservation using the law of ankle.
[00:17:23] Mason: Is there ever land reclamation or restoration that’s that is subject of the conservation easement or is it preserving what’s there?
[00:17:32] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Absolutely. So, as I mentioned, this land management or wildlife management plan that gets updated, sometimes we call it up. It depends on what kind of business the family is it, you know, if they’re in cattle, that’s one kind of land use plan.
If they’re in wildlife, that’s a different if they’re in nature, tourism with wedding venues, but absolutely. We want to provide the resources, sometimes financial and certainly scientific expertise. Tell family reclaim, uh, and restore to improve. For example, the area along creeks and streams. Um, if, if that’s been heavily grazed, it’s going to take some work to get it back to what we think it is, should be a healthy environment.
[00:18:20] Jess: And can you share what some of the most common hurdles are when it comes to trying to get an acreage of land preserved, funny,
[00:18:27] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: more money, and then money. Um, yeah. Let me clarify that. When we talk about a conservation easement, oftentimes families donate those development rights.
In other words, they say we don’t want to chop the place up into five acres. We’ll happily extinguish that, right. And we say, go talk to your kids, your grandkids, be sure we’re all together here. The scenario that happens most in central tech in the hill country, is that families give up some of the development rights and they have a value.
We have those development rights appraised, how often? Uh, once. So not the value of the ranch, not the value of the dirt, as we say, but the value of the four. Revenue from giving up the right to develop the property for forever, for forever.
[00:19:24] Jess: Has have they’ve ever been, I don’t know, the term retroactive or reversed.
[00:19:29] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Reversed. Yeah. Not in Texas, but there are, there’s some interesting case law. Some people are trying to undo a couple of them, so we’re watching. Oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah. And, and the reason the federal courts have not undone them is because again, if your family got paid to closing, you know, you, you were giving up $10 million, but we gave you 3 million and you keep the ranch.
There are also federal tax benefits. And I won’t get into that unless you want me to. But my point is that then a family cannot go back and say, yes, we got this cash. And yes, we got some federal tax benefits, but now we want to. The grant say
[00:20:16] Jess: no. Do you watch the Yellowstone? Of course. So their whole issue is that their land is getting smaller and smaller and there’s all these developers coming in.
They’re obviously not on an easement then why wouldn’t they just go get on an Eastman? Then this just blows the whole
[00:20:34] Mason: planet.
[00:20:36] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I should have come and talked to y’all years ago. These are some of the best questions I did. Easements do not stop Condit and nation. So in Yellowstone, there are some water districts and some other entities that are trying to get the legislature to condemn the ranch.
Right? Yeah. So it,
[00:20:58] Mason: but the premise of driving up property values, that would be irrelevant. Right?
[00:21:04] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Did it, the property taxes when, when one is in agriculture property taxes, or it’s a misnomer to call it an exemption, ranchers pay property taxes, but they pay an ag status. So it greatly reduced property tax. And so even when the surrounding price of land goes up, their tax system, Conservation easements can help keep that down as well.
[00:21:36] Mason: Yeah. Well, it sounds like we need to call the Dutton family. That should be their whole next season is getting a conservation easement. It, I bet everyone in America would know what it is after that. We need to call
[00:21:49] Jess: her up. What’s her name? I’m blanking on it. Elizabeth or Beth? Beth. Yeah, maybe her real, her full name’s Elizabeth.
[00:21:56] Mason: She is.
[00:21:58] Jess: So
[00:22:00] Mason: Yeah. Have you ever had a really egregious violation of the easement? Like I’m sure people just go, well, fuck it. I’m going to do whatever I want.
[00:22:08] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Not egregious. Okay. What unfortunately we’re seeing, and it’s a national trend is in the second and third generation owners. So if you have a conservation easement on your ranch, you can sell it and give it to your kids.
But the agreement runs with the dirt. We have people now who own conservation easement land, who did not know about reading the conservation easement and they go out and write. At a parking lot or they build a guest house. I mean, it’s fascinating to me that you could go to a real estate closing and Bob plays and not do your due diligence.
We had, uh, a lady say, yeah, her attorney said something about that nature agreement. Thankfully, every. Conversation that he’ll come to Conservancy has been involved in like that the landowners have had the resources to, to, um, work with us to address the violation. That’s good. And, and generally the bar is whatever you do to, to balance the violence.
It’s gotta be a net net, net win for the environment, or there can’t be any question that it was actually that, that what I’m doing to clean up my mess is better. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:23:32] Jess: I have another question. my family used to own a ranch out in rock Springs, Texas. They just sold it this past March.
They had it for about 15 years. So they owned the land rights, but they didn’t own like what was under the land. Like if there was oil under it, how does that work? If like, would they have been able to get an easement on it, but if they didn’t own the land underneath it?
[00:23:51] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Yes. So the minerals, a lot of land in Texas, the mineral ownership has been severed.
The men rights are severed. And, and we have a very clear and legal process for developing that, uh, same thing. There’s a Lin on the property from a bank. So depending on we want the conservation easement to be first in line in the legal agreements. Um, so sometimes we get, uh, holders of the mineral rights to subordinate and it doesn’t affect their ownership.
So they’re fine.
[00:24:28] Mason: Gotcha. Okay. So they can still extract the mineral maybe.
[00:24:34] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: So it depends on what their lease says, their mineral lease. And we have to read that very carefully and sometimes we’d try and get that lease amended, uh, to talk about restaurants. After the extraction. Yeah. But love those leases, like rock Springs.
I’m pretty sure y’all don’t have any Wells. Oh yeah,
[00:24:55] Jess: there’s not. But that was just a general question with that specific example. Um,
[00:25:01] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I mean, as you know, we’re, we’re down the hill from y’all 50 miles and we have. I mean, people paid us for what? Just to hold the right to pump. There’s no oil, whether it is all on the Gulf coast, it’s a big deal.
[00:25:18] Mason: But you, and you took their money. You’re like, you want to pay me just to hurt you? Yeah. It’s their fault for not knowing there’s.
[00:25:28] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I think they were just tying up millions of acres in Texas in the early days, just in case.
[00:25:35] Mason: Yeah. Or to go raise money because if they have a bunch more acres tied up, then they got a little bit better case.
And so when you say we are down, down, I don’t know if you said downhill or not, but you, your family has had a ranch. You want to talk a little bit about the history of that?
[00:25:51] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Yeah, so I think of rock Springs, well, west and, and it’s a little bit higher elevation, down
[00:25:59] Mason: elevation.
[00:26:00] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I like to say. My brother and I chose our great, great grandparents, very carefully.
And we’re blessed to have a place on the Frio river, a working cattle ranch. My brother is the real rancher in the family. And it’s interesting to me, just to think about that history of Texas, how people came out into the hill country in the 18 hundreds, there was just nothing at all, you know, and they.
Somehow, maybe living put some cows on the land. So I’m fortunate to have had that experience being in. Land conservation businesses, the land trust, uh, completely understand the landowner’s perspective, right?
[00:26:47] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: And there’s a whole part of our policy work that. We’ve been exploring for years, but it, and I say it hill country Conservancy and land trust in general of working with developers to figure out incentives so that the homes are closer together, but everybody has the homeowners have access to.
Commonly held open space. And so we would love to be part of a conservation easement on say a thousand acres, 200 other developed and 800 acres of natural land. Uh, that’s not parks, it’s not pavilions, not barbecue pits, maybe a little of that, but we’re talking about really leaving it natural. Yeah. I think the market’s changing.
Everybody wanted your ranch Chet for five acre ranch yet. But the market I think, is really changing. There are now some developments where the homes are closer together and if sided appropriately and you leave nature there instead of clear cutting it and then building homes, um, it’s really. You feel like you’re very much in nature, even though you’re living close to somewhat.
[00:28:02] Mason: I bought a little, well, I put a deposit down on a tiny house. That was to be that where as a bunch of little tiny houses and communal areas, a farm, and then it was like 40% of the property. It was just left to nature, but then it didn’t get built because there was a little too much. Community space. And so people all had to work together on certain things, especially if you’re in a tiny home, cause they were pretty small.
They were all under a thousand square feet, the homes. And so then the common areas, lots of people had input and it turns out, you know, you get a, a group of people together and. Everyone’s friends and then you ask him, Hey, let’s actually build something together. And then they’re not friends anymore.
[00:28:52] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: No, it’s a commonly held truism.
Mohsen that the collective IQ of a group goes down with more and more people. Um, I give Hayes county a lot of credit on this idea of conservation development. Hayes county is Travis county. And that did a conservation development ordinance 10 years ago to incentivize this clustered development with a lot of green space.
it was the first one. And, and so it did not attract developers for various reasons, but the Hayes county model I think, is, is going to be successful. And Hayes county is, looking forward. Forward thinking, in my opinion, there may even be some financial incentives for not doing more of the same. Yeah.
In other words, don’t build a thousand homes. Uh, let’s have a better model for the whole country.
[00:29:51] Mason: Did you have any idea when you miss that meeting and you said I’m the executive director. That you would be able to speak so eloquently on such complex legal matters down the
[00:30:03] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: road. Kevin’s no, I’m trying to say I’m learning.
I really am.
[00:30:09] Mason: Well, it sounds like you’ve learned volumes.
[00:30:14] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I mean, whether it’s conservation development or the, the unknown revenues streams that will be available to families, we’re constantly learning,
[00:30:23] Mason: so we know that you don’t just work on this issue, but you live and breathe and I’m going to say it’s, it might be polarizing, but environmentalist.
It is, which is now a polarizing term. He used to not actually be a polarizing term. What are some of your favorite tips as an individual? It’s another area where I consider you a role model, a tips to help conserve and, you know, help the environment.
[00:30:50] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I’m going to try real hard, not to get on my soap box, but I find it shocking that people walk four blocks to a city park.
I mean drive instead of walking. that was interesting. I said, walk first, I guess I’m still hopeful that people would get out of their cars and walk to the city park.
So Mary Elizabeth Nye, uh, trial hard to bicycle or walk everywhere. and honestly we just feel better. I mean, it’s healthier, not realize that’s not for everyone. It is miserable here in August and September, but now have e-bikes. And so it’s a very, you know, people can, can now get out as a family and ride their bikes and feel safer about it.
We, you guys know a lot more about gardening and composting than I do, but it’s just so simple there. And recently it’s just so easy to do that in one’s own backyard, even a small backyard. So we do that. Mary Elizabeth just created a large pollen their garden at our little local park. We live in a very tiny community west of Austin.
And so she, and some friends got down there and, and drew up a plan. God had approved by the city council and created a pollinator garden.
I just think there’s so many things that, that y’all are helping promote help.
People can lead a green life. It’s not hard. It’s fun and easy. Yeah. And so thank you for, for educating people. Uh, we just put up our second Al house. The first one we put up, we didn’t have a clue. So now we’re reading and learning and we’ll see, but we’re going to start putting up our house. Uh,
[00:32:31] Mason: yeah, we’ve got a couple of owls back here along the cliff and I, well, I, you know, recently I discovered on two different visits, I had discovered in these trips to the Pacific Northwest, that I have some connection to owls and owls are actually my spirit animal and some great horned owl that these people were visiting a farm outside of Seattle on Whidbey island.
They never see. They’re great horned owl. They can only hear it at night and 3:00 PM. I’m pulling up to their yert and the great horn Dallas sitting there right there in front of it on a limb. And he’s like, do you see that? I’m like, cause it’s a bird, right? It’s like, it’s a great orange down. So he was telling me about it.
And then the second time we went on a, on our RV trip, the mostly green life RV trip. We went last year and we went through there and we pulled up in the RV. And we get out and he wasn’t there. It was just me and Jess and he goes, stand on the front steps of the yard and we looked up. There’s that owl again and again, it was like three or 4:00 PM.
So, and your
[00:33:37] Jess: friend didn’t believe it at the time he was like, you probably didn’t see it. They don’t ever come out during the day.
[00:33:42] Mason: Luckily I took a picture and showed him. So I really want to get some outhouses for out here and propagate some more owls or raise them or just, I dunno what she’s saying for that.
When it’s a natural thing, encourage them.
[00:33:56] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: I don’t know how long we’ve known each other, but we’ve just raised the spiritual level here in this room. Quite a bit. The first time I was in a sweat lodge was some Lakota native Americans. Large white, right. Horn owl visited us in the sweat lodge, a femoral Hurley, and spiritually not, uh, not bothering flesh.
Uh, so I didn’t know you and I had that in common and until this moment.
[00:34:25] Mason: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I didn’t, I still don’t necessarily know exactly what to do with it. He educated me some on. You know, kind of their, what their role in the spiritual world. And a lot of that I, I certainly resonated with and kind of the veil between the living world and the spirit world and their ability to see things that nobody else can see.
I mean, everyone wants that. That’s just sounds like a virtue, uh, but I’m interested to learn more so we should have some talks about. Uh, you know, connections, the owls and, and you know, how, how we can use that to help us and help the ALS
[00:35:10] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: that’s that’s a good reminder. I need to be more mindful of, uh, of that, that connection it’s important.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
[00:35:19] Mason: Well, Georgia, truly an icon for those of us who care about the. You’re saying retiring from hill country Conservancy for the third.
[00:35:30] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: if I retire, let’s, let’s back up a little bit there when I retire, but I am blessed to be working with a really good team. And so I’m going to stay on for a while and we’ll see what the future
[00:35:42] Mason: holds.
And so how can. The most degree in life listeners get involved with heal can shake Conservancy.
[00:35:48] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: Thank you for asking. And, and my best answer, I think is what the rest of the world says, go to our website. It is hill country Conservancy dot O R G. And there we now have wellspring. Our membership program is called wellspring.
So we are share your. Lead a healthy lifestyle values, and we want to promote that. And so we’re centering our membership program around those healthy lifestyles. Uh, we have young professionals program and with any emerging professionals in conservation, epic, epic. So we do epic county and it’s in the hill country.
So I’m sure epic has its own website. I should know what it is, but he’ll come to conservancy.org and we do volunteer days who do a lot of good stuff. Nature walks and talks. And, um, whether someone can contribute or not we’d please get them. And
[00:36:49] Mason: their annual fundraiser, even for people not in Austin, you should make a trip to Austin called hill country nights is my absolute favorite kind of gala night of the year.
It’s a really amazing event I’ll put on it’s
[00:37:03] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: the best conservation party anywhere as far as I know. Thank you. September 30th, we just picked the date. Oh nine. That has not been announced, but it’s not a secret save an event September 30th and hill country nights focuses on just going and celebrating conservation.
Uh, it’s affordable. We have good music, good food. And thank you for mentioning it. Yeah, we will see you all.
[00:37:32] Mason: All right. And so lastly, I always like to get, uh, just a little bit of closing wisdom. You’ve been around a short time on this planet, but you’ve probably learned a lot in that short time. What do you think are the most important things we should be doing or kind of like, what’s your, what’s your hope for where we move as a culture from here?
[00:37:58] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: For some reason, my very strange brain wants to say, don’t eat crap. So that’s not original. That’s a lot of people know that, but, um, it bears
[00:38:12] Mason: repeating. It bears crap
[00:38:15] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: and it’s, it’s a serious, it gets more and more serious everyday. What I think is important for people getting involved in. And a program or a cause or a life path is to stick with it.
I never realized how, how long it would take to get some stuff done. And so. If one is going to get involved, whether it’s environmental protection or consumer protection or equal rights. This is a as a friend of mine at us department of ag said, George, how loved partnering with y’all? And this is not meant I’m not patting myself on the back.
He said it about hill country Conservancy. He said, you all are not of the weak knee or faint of heart. And so these, for example, a conservation easement agreement that we’re talking about, that takes three to five years with a family, the violet crown trail that we’re talking about another day, uh, 22 years, we’ve been working on that and, and it’s not unique to hill country.
People who get involved in, in this kind of. Conservation work and this kind of policy work. If you look at the people who are effective, they’ve been at it for many decades.
[00:39:36] Mason: amazing. thank you for being on this has been an absolute. Pleasure. I
[00:39:42] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: loved it. And from my, I guess, all podcasts serve premium craft tequila,
[00:39:50] Mason: that we may be a little unique in that
[00:39:53] George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy: way.
Well, thank you all. Really appreciate this opportunity to chat with people and, uh, we’ll do it again sometime.
Hey, Jess, can we get a conservation easement for a backyard? I don’t know. That’s a good idea though. We didn’t ask that we should have, it really is such a cool activity. That’s kind of going on in the background to help preserve natural value all around us. It should be celebrated more, I think, and he takes. I would say just a random fact. I was really surprised to learn that 97% of Texas is owned by private landowners. That was crazy. Pretty crazy. It’s a very libertarian state. Yeah. Um, but my main takeaway is just, I think that what hill country Conservancy is doing is great, you know, For the public to enjoy scenic views or to have clean water and air, like George mentioned, scenic vistas, scenic Vista is what’s the difference.
Okay. or for poor little salamanders or any other animal that’s endangered helping with their wildlife habitat searches for families. I want to have land that their children’s children can enjoy, you know? Yeah. It’s a really great endeavor. I really enjoy the reminder to stick to things at the end, what he said, he’s got so much wisdom and I agree that persistence really is the answer to most things.
And it’s great to get that kind of reminder every now and then keep plugging away at the things you think make a difference and good things will likely come over. Well, a winding track for our earth month episodes. We learned a ton about individual action. We talked about fashion and the environment, and of course, cannabis on four 20 and a unique path for private stewardship of the environment.
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