Hays County Commissioners Court Votes to Implement Habitat Conservation Plan to Protect Endangered Species, Aid Development
July 11, 2013 - Hays County Courthouse, San Marcos, TX – The Hays County Commissioners Court, on July 9, 2013, took the next step in protecting sensitive habitat while streamlining development by unanimously voting to implement its federally approved Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (RHCP).
The RHCP provides a locally controlled approach for compliance with the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) by allowing the County to offer mitigation credits for otherwise lawful development on land where there could be “incidental takings” of protected species. In Hays County, the ESA applies to two endangered songbirds, the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo, but the RHCP could protect as many as 56 additional species considered rare or threatened.
“The six-plus years Hays County has spent developing and getting approval for the RHCP will pay off greatly over the next 30 years,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, who helped spearhead the RHCP. “We will see an immediate benefit to our local economy by providing a predictable, streamlined and locally controlled process for obtaining compliance with federal regulations while continuing our tradition of conservation in the county.”
An approved RHCP allows landowners who have qualifying habitat acreage and want to preserve it as open space to voluntarily donate or sell it to the County. In turn, the County can help streamline public projects and private development in areas where the ESA applies by providing “credits” that offset the “takings” of land where protected species might be impacted. The County initially plans to offer the credits for development at $7,500 per credit acre.
The County’s Development Services Department expects the application for landowners interested in providing habitat acreage to be available by the end of the year. In the meantime, questions can be directed to Clint Garza, Development Services Director, at 512.393.2150. For more information about the Hays County RHCP, visit www.co.hays.tx.us and choose Plans, Policies & Reports from the Government tab.
The Final Hays County RHCP and Environmental Impact Statement are posted on the DOCUMENTS page.
Located in the heart of central Texas and the Balcones Canyonlands region of the Edwards Plateau, Hays County is home to a diverse native wildlife and plant community. Dense woodlands and open savannas of live oak, Ashe juniper, and honey mesquite in the limestone hills and valleys of the area provide habitat for federally endangered golden-cheeked warblers (Dendroica chrysoparia) and black-capped vireos (Vireo atricapilla). Spring-fed waterways dissect the hills helping recharge the Edwards Aquifer. A wide variety of aquatic species depend on the water quality and quantity these drainages collect.
Midway between the City of Austin and the City of San Antonio, Hays County has experienced rapid population growth overflowing from these two major metropolitan areas during the past decade. Land development has and will continue to accompany population growth. The rural character of the county is already competing with new subdivisions, commercial property, and other types of urban development. Residential subdivision construction is quickly fragmenting the large and contiguous patches of juniper-oak woodland habitat that is valuable habitat for endangered wildlife.
Hays County has created a Regional Habitat Conservation Plan to help balance the needs of its growing constituency with responsible economic development and good public infrastructure, while also creating open space recreational opportunities. Implementation of this RHCP will conserve habitat for endangered species and provide an streamlined process for individuals to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Hays County RHCP was prepared with the assistance of a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hays County also sought the input of advisory committees and environmental, economic, and legal consultants to help prepare the HCP and other documents needed to obtain an Endangered Species Act incidental take permit.