signing ceremonyU. S. Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Director Nancy Kaufman signing the BCCP permit on May 2, 1996. Behind Ms. Kaufman (left to right): former U. S. Representative Jake Pickle, U. S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, City of Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, Travis County Commissioner Valarie Bristol, Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, and Lower Colorado River Authority General Manager Mark Rose.


The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP) is a community-based solution that allows development to continue while protecting important wildlife habitat. Signed in 1996, the BCCP was a landmark deal that has since served as a model across the country.

During the 1980’s, Austin grew rapidly, putting pressure on the environment. Between 1987 and 1990, eight species in western Travis County were listed as endangered as a result of habitat loss. The final species to be listed, the golden-cheeked warbler, nests only in Central Texas and its breeding habitat spans much of western Travis County. As a result of its listing, development in the area came to a near standstill.

Local policy-makers, developers, scientists, and environmentalists came together to find a solution. They worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) to create a Habitat Conservation Plan and Enviromental Impact Statement for the eight endangered species, which served as the basis for the BCCP, along with a 10(a)(1)(b) permit issued jointly by the USFWS to Travis County and the City of Austin. The co-permit holders also developed a Shared Vision Interlocal Agreement in 1995 to outline how they would work together to implement the BCCP, including the creation and management of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP). The Agreement also established the BCCP Coordinating Committee, which includes one member each from the City and County, to direct the administration of the permit.

During the development of the BCCP, scientists determined that 75,000 acres of habitat were needed to secure the recovery of the golden-cheeked warbler in Travis County. To help meet the recovery goal for the golden-checked warbler, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, setting a goal to protect another 46,000 acres northwest of the BCP across Travis, Burnet, and Williamson Counties.

The City of Austin, Travis County, Travis Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and Lower Colorado River Authority contributed existing parks and preserves to begin the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Responsibility for completing the preserve fell to the co-permit holders, the City of Austin and Travis County. The remaining preserve land would be acquired over the 30-year life of the permit for the BCCP. To date, the BCP protects 32,270 acres and the National Wildlife Refuge protects 27,000 acres.


lesser goldfinch by jim and lynne weberLesser goldfinch photo by Lynne and Jim Weber


The BCCP Partners reached the minimum acreage goal of 30,428 in fiscal year 2012. While this large and once very daunting goal has been met, the BCCP partners still have some work to do. The permit contains several other requirements that Travis County and the City of Austin must fulfill. They need to protect a minimum amount of habitat in each of seven macrosites, as well as 62 caves named in the permit.

The preserve also must have a configuration that is well-suited to species recovery, having as little “edge” habitat as possible. The protected species do best in habitat that is removed from the noise, pollution, and invasive species that generally come with surrounding development. Travis County and the City of Austin have until the end of the permit term in 2026 to meet these goals.

When the term of the permit is up in 2026, the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve will remain protected. Since these lands were preserved in exchange for the development of other areas, the preserve can never be developed. However, the expedited permitting process for developing endangered species habitat would end unless the BCCP permit is renewed.

Preserve Growth

The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve is continuing to grow as Travis County and the City of Austin work to fulfill the commitments of the BCCP. Land is acquired for the preserve through several methods – fee simple acquisition, conservation easement purchase, and conservation easement donation.

When assessing a potential BCP property, the County considers whether the property contains habitat for any of the species protected in the BCCP, protects waterways that BCCP species rely on, is within the BCP Acquisition Zone, or is adjacent to the BCP.

If you would like to discuss selling or donating a conservation easement for inclusion in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve or would like more information about the County’s Conservation Easement Program, contact Debra Scott at [email protected] or (512) 854-7214.