Habitat Plan Takes Hit - Texas county opts out of region-wide Habitat Conservation Plan

News & Updates
American Stewards
By Dan Byfield

December 16, 2010

This week, after major protests from hundreds of landowners led by a courageous organization known as the Exotic Wildlife Association, county commissioners in Kerr County, Texas, passed a resolution opting out of a region-wide Habitat Conservation Plan known as the Southern Edwards Plateau HCP (SEP-HCP).

The significance of this decision is that this county has decided it doesn’t have to be railroaded by federal agencies and major environmental organizations into creating plans detrimental to their constituents, landowners, and their local economy. 

What is now expected is, the other surrounding counties will take the lead of Kerr and opt out of the federal plan leaving them with nothing to control.  There are two small song birds known as the Black-capped vireo and the Golden-cheeked warbler that supposedly lives in approximately 33 Central Texas counties.

Years ago in the early 1990’s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) tried to list 33 Central Texas counties as habitat for the two endangered birds, but protests from thousands of Texans killed their plans.  Since that time, the federal government has tried numerous ways of enticing landowners and counties into succumbing to their plans, but most counties have resisted.

However, when Bruce Babbitt under president Bill Clinton came up with the idea of Habitat Conservation Plans, several counties and cities in Texas decided to aid and abet the federal agency by creating these huge preserves and committing thousands of acres and thousands of landowners to their scheme.

Now, Bexar County, along with the City of San Antonio, have filed for an application with FWS that not only includes Bexar County, but six more surrounding counties - Medina, Bandera, Kerr, Kendall, Blanco, and Comal.

Kerr County commissioner Jonathan Letz has been helping the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) by co-chairing the committee with Kirby Brown of the Texas Wildlife Association.  When landowners discovered their county and, in particular, their county commissioners were helping in this plan, they became incensed leading to the county-passed resolution on December 13, 2010 to opt out of the plan. 

With that decision, it is now hoped by landowners in other surrounding counties that their elected officials will take the lead of Kerr County and opt out as well.

In essence, the SEP-HCP will give zoning authority to the managing committee made up of Bexar County and the City of San Antonio.  Once the map with a minimum of 10,000 acres in each of the six surrounding counties is created, that will place a major encumbrance on those acres destroying property values and reducing the tax base of each county.

The plan will create a fee (tax) on those landowners who are targeted as having habitat who will have to pay exorbitant fees to utilize their land.  Those fees will be collected by the City of San Antonio and Bexar County and used to buy more land to create a large preserve or used as a management budget to run the whole scheme.  Landowners will find that they cannot build a fence, a barn, a home or subdivide unless they first get permission from this newly created group sanctioned by our federal government.

Kerr County did the right thing in opting out of this plan.  They took the first step that others in Central Texas should take, but more importantly, other local communities around the nation ought to consider following Kerr County’s lead and just say “NO” to our federal government.

They can accomplish the same goals of “preserving” land by going to any landowner they wish and asking if they would place conservation easements on their land in perpetuity to save the species.  American Stewards of Liberty is not endorsing conservation easements, but we don’t endorse one county having the ability to form a Habitat Conservation plan just so they can continue to develop at their discretion and at the detriment of their neighboring counties.

Proponents always claim these HCPs are “voluntary,” but once a plan like this goes into effect, it will never go away and those landowners who find themselves with habitat will be forced into complying with this plan.  How is that voluntary?  It is extremely unfortunate for those landowners who get caught in the “Russian-roulette” being played with their private property. 

SEPHCP Resolution
SEPHCP Website