TNC, U.S. Army, Bexar County in Texas purchase 1,244 acres on northeast side of San Antonio from Forestar for US$1.5M for conservation, wildlife habitat protection

SAN ANTONIO, Texas , November 17, 2011 (press release) – The Nature Conservancy, Bexar County and the United States Army announced today the protection of 1,244 acres of pristine land on the northeast side of San Antonio.

The Cibolo Bluffs Preserve, formerly called Dierks Tract, will be owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy to provide habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler, a federally endangered songbird. In addition, the purchase will enable the Army to expand critical medical and combat training operations at Camp Bullis.

Due to rapid development of the land surrounding Camp Bullis, the 28,000-acre military installation is becoming an unintentional “lone island of refuge” for the endangered warbler, putting the future of Fort Sam Houston and Bullis, one of Bexar County’s major employers and the top military medical training facility in the country, in jeopardy.

The Nature Conservancy and the Army entered into a cooperative agreement known as an Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) in 2009 to protect important habitat for warblers off of the camp in exchange for mitigation credits, which allow the Army to clear vegetation and expand training capacity at Camp Bullis.

"This latest deal is a huge milestone in The Nature Conservancy’s long body of work with the Military because it takes the pressure off Camp Bullis for the foreseeable future,” said Laura Huffman, executive director for The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “It is an honor to once again partner with the U.S. Army and now with Bexar County on a conservation effort where people, nature and the economy win."

The Austin Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which is overseeing the mitigation process, first suggested this unique and innovative mitigation exchange concept in summer 2008. It is estimated that by protecting habitat in other parts of the region, this effort has saved taxpayers nearly $50 million when compared to the cost of expanding the actual base outside its boundaries.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service applauds the efforts of the U.S. Army, Bexar County, and The Nature Conservancy 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’s goal is to accelerate recovery of threatened and endangered species while making it easier for people to coexist with species.”

Bexar County stepped forward with $5 million towards the purchase and future management of the property, which was sold to the Conservancy by Forestar Group Inc. for $1.5 million under appraised value. The Army also committed $2 million towards the project.

In addition to protecting warbler habitat the deal also helps safeguard land over the region’s primary source of drinking water, the Edwards Aquifer, and provides a buffer to Bracken Bat Cave, home to the world’s largest bat colony.

“This is a testament of what can be achieved through cooperation among the major partners in the San Antonio community,” said Commissioner Wolff.

To date, the collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and the Army in cooperation with regional partners including USFWS, Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and several private landowners has resulted in nearly 5,000 acres protected for golden-cheeked warbler habitat region-wide.

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