Cooperatove Conservation Project

Central Texas Sustainability Partnership

Cattlemen’s Trail Leads to Vital Songbird Habitat

Location: South-Central/South-West Region: Texas

Project Summary: Conflict over habitat for two endangered species resulted in a diverse working group able to address the needs of both the species and affected landowners.
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Tree shear working to clear ashe juniper.
Resource Challenge

Land management plans often include brush control to conserve water and provide forage for wildlife and livestock. In the mid-1990s ranchers in central Texas hit a snag when they planned to remove overgrown Ashe juniper, a brush species that provides habitat for the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, two birds listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Area ranchers were prevented from clearing Ashe juniper due to the ESA. However, they wanted to actively manage the resources on their lands and initiated the formation of a diverse core group to seek a solution to ESA-imposed restrictions. The group supported a common goal—restoring habitat for the warbler and vireo—but opinions varied greatly in how that could be accomplished.

The situation also affected Fort Hood, the largest Army training base in the United States, which shares borders with many ranchers in central Texas. Army training routines were disrupted when 70,000 acres of its 217,000-acre base were determined to be habitat for the endangered birds.
Examples of Key Partners

Central Texas Cattlemen’s Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Environmental Defense, Texas A&M University, U.S. Army (Fort Hood, Texas), Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Wildlife Association, USDI Fish and Wildlife
Service, The Nature Conservancy, Leon River Restoration Project (LRRP), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Results and Accomplishments

During roundtable discussions, group members gained a better understanding of the project’s many aspects. As they let down their guard, the growing trust and understanding brought great accomplishments. Their efforts led to the Leon River Restoration Project. By treating re-growth Ashe juniper rather than removing it entirely, and supplementing the treatment by re-seeding native grasses where needed, they improved habitats and increased the number of Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler. Oldgrowth Ashe Juniper was left to provide nesting sites for the birds. In addition to improving wildlife habitat, ranchers discovered that water quality and quantity improved as well.

The success of the LRRP led to the development of a Biological Opinion under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. The LRRP Biological Opinion served as the framework to develop another Biological Opinion statewide. Ranchers are now able to actively manage their land, and the Army has been able to open up its land for training. Landowners now see the habitat as an asset. As a result, both the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo are thriving.

The project participants overcame communication barriers and misunderstandings to create an effective working model that can be transferred to similar situations across the nation.

Project Contact
Steve Manning
Leon River Restoration Project
Central Texas Cattlemen's Association

Roderick Chisholm
Director of Public Works
Fort Hood


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