Cooperative Conservation Initiative Protects Warbler Habitat in South Texas
Deal between the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Army and Highlands Dominion is a first of its kind in the Southwest
March 31, 2011
SAN ANTONIO, TX—March 31, 2011—The Nature Conservancy of Texas and the United States Army announced today the closing of an innovative public-private transaction of a conservation easement on 57-acres of hilltop property in The Dominion and a transfer of a 223-acre ranch known as The Neighbor Tract in Bandera County. The Neighbor property is adjacent to the Conservancy’s existing 1,800-acre Love Creek Preserve. The easement and fee transfer protect significant habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler, a federally endangered songbird. It also meets the obligations of the owner of The Dominion property, Highlands Dominion, L.L.C. (Highlands Dominion) for mitigation under the Endangered Species Act, and provides mitigation credits, which will allow for expansion of training areas on Camp Bullis.
The addition of The Neighbor Tract to the Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve brings the preserve acreage to more than 2,000-acres of pristine land.
To complete the deal, Highlands Dominion was able to join in Camp Bullis’ Section 7 consultation to cover the “take” by its own development of 16 acres of occupied habitat, 24-acres of buffer, and 29-acres of unoccupied (potential) habitat on the Highlands Dominion site. In return for this streamlined procedure and in lieu of the traditional Section 10 process that non-federal parties would normally undergo, Highlands Dominion purchased the 223-acre Neighbor Tract, agreed to a conservation easement on a portion of the 57-acre tract on Highlands Dominion, and agreed to grant the excess 122 golden-cheeked warbler mitigation acre credits generated by this transaction to Camp Bullis.
This is the first time in the Southwestern United States that a federal agency and private party have partnered on this specific type of transaction.
This transaction required the support of The Dominion Home Owners Association (HOA) Board for subordination of the umbrella restrictions to the conservation restriction. The Dominion HOA Board unanimously supported the effort, “the HOA is pleased to work cooperatively with Camp Bullis, The Nature Conservancy, and The Highlands, L.L.C. The solution is a reasonable compromise and only a minor variance to our umbrella restrictions and standards. We were happy to find a way to support the Military mission at Camp Bullis” said Richard Dietz, Vice Chairman of the The Dominion HOA Board.
“This is an innovative initiative in cooperation with the Highlands Dominion to resolve mitigation requirements in a very collaborative way,” said Colonel Mary E. Garr, Garrison Commander of the 502nd Mission Support Group at Fort Sam Houston.
The Highlands Dominion conservation restriction and Neighbor tract fee transfer create permanently protected areas outside the Camp and provide mitigation credits, allowing the owner to move forward on a 105-acre development next to Camp Bullis while allowing the military to continue its mission at Camp Bullis by avoiding or reducing restrictions on training areas imposed under terms of the Endangered Species Act. “We thank U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Army, The Nature Conservancy, and several other organizations and individuals that helped in getting this transaction completed and supporting the vision of an environmentally responsible development,” said Rajeev Puri, president of Highlands Dominion.
The Austin Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggested the mitigation exchange concept and is overseeing the process. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service applauds the efforts of the Army and TNC to secure long term protection for the golden-cheeked warbler while facilitating the training efforts of the Army," said Texas State Administrator, Gary Mowad. "The Service is very excited to be a part of this important effort and we look forward to working with the Army and The Nature Conservancy in the future on this and other projects to conserve species in Texas."
The Army has committed approximately $40,000 in funding for the Conservancy to obtain and hold the conservation easement, which is the second one entered into under the terms of the cooperative agreement formalized between the Army and the Conservancy in 2009. The agreement, known as an Army Compatible Use Buffer, or ACUB, allows for permanent conservation of important undeveloped areas of habitat outside of Camp Bullis for the golden-cheeked warbler, thereby allowing the post to continue its critical Defense Department medical and combat training operations. More than 85-percent of the land that will be thinned of cedar on Camp Bullis will be unoccupied habitat.
The rapid development of the land surrounding Camp Bullis and corresponding endangered species pressures on the Camp as an “island of refuge” have been a concern to the Army. Because of the military's longstanding stewardship of habitat on the post, Camp Bullis now supports a robust and growing population of golden-cheeked warblers. Protecting key remaining habitat within the area where the Camp is located will facilitate training at post, which has long been considered the Defense Department's premier medic field training facility in the United States.
The conservation easement may also benefit the Edwards Aquifer and regional water quality, as well as other rare and endangered plants and animals unique to the region. This transaction marks the latest chapter in the ongoing partnership between The Nature Conservancy of Texas and the United States Army. The two organizations have collaborated to conserve lands and waters at the Maverick Ranch, at Caddo Lake and Lennox Foundation Southmost preserves and have partnered for 20 years to protect endangered species habitat at Fort Hood Project in Central Texas.
The Nature Conservancy of Texas maintains more than 30 ecologically important preserves and conservation projects statewide and, with partners, has conserved more than 750,000 acres of land and water in Texas. The organization has also led significant marine habitat restoration efforts along the Gulf of Mexico that benefit terrestrial and aquatic wildlife and help protect human communities from hurricanes and tropical storms. In addition to a dozen initiatives benefiting Texas rivers and streams, the Conservancy also works with private landowners and municipalities, such as the cities of San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos, to protect critical freshwater resources like the Edwards and Trinity aquifers. Over the past 45 years, the Conservancy has worked with state and federal agencies to create and expand beloved public areas, including Enchanted Rock State Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.