Former U.S. Congressman Morris Udall once said, “The more we exploit nature, the more our options are reduced, until we have only one: to fight for survival.” While man’s place in nature is hotly contested, we can agree on one species that is, as we speak, fighting for survival: the golden-cheeked warbler. In our ongoing effort to protect this Central Texas songbird, we established Cibolo Bluffs Preserve, 2,765 acres of pristine warbler habitat.
Situated about 20 miles northeast of San Antonio, Cibolo Bluffs is a scenic landscape that encompasses nearly three miles of Cibolo Creek, which spans both Comal and Bexar counties. It was created in partnership with Bexar County and the United States Army; due to rapid development of the land surrounding Camp Bullis, the 28,000-acre military installation—which supports medical training and combat facilities—was fast becoming a ‘lone island of refuge’ for the warbler. The Conservancy entered into a cooperative agreement with the Army to protect warbler habitat off-site in exchange for mitigation credits, which allow the Army to clear vegetation and develop property surrounding the camp.
Much of Cibolo Bluffs features prime habitat for the federally protected golden-cheeked warbler, a native songbird that only nests in the mature oak and Ashe juniper forests of Central Texas. Rapid development across the region has had a drastic impact on warblers and their habitat.
The preserve also safeguards land over the Edwards Aquifer. Rain percolates through the shallow soil and underlying limestone to create interesting sinkholes, caves and other karst features before finally flowing into the aquifer, which provides drinking water for more than two million Central Texans.
Bats emerge from Bracken Bat Cave at sunset.
The Conservancy initially established Cibolo Bluffs as a 1,244 protected parcel, but added a little more than 1,500 acres in 2013, to help protect nearby Bracken Bat Cave. Bracken is home to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats between May and October, making it the largest bat colony in the world. Working with a coalition of public and private organizations that includes the city of San Antonio, Bat Conservation International, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, Forestar, the United States Army and Bexar County, the Conservancy acquired the property separating Cibolo Bluffs and Bracken Bat Cave to create an uninterrupted expanse of nearly 5,000 protected acres.