landscape by heather valey
Preserve photo by Heather Valey

Western Travis County is a beautiful place to live and work, with its rolling green hills, open water, and majestic trees. But as anyone who lives here knows, living with nature can come with special challenges and rules. We hope this page will be a useful resource, helping us work together to keep this area beautiful and safe.

Travis County Natural Resources works closely with preserve neighbors to help minimize wildfire risk, control invasive plants and feral hogs, and protect the integrity of the preserve and surrounding neighborhoods. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to get involved, please contact us.

Resources for Preserve Neighbors

texas forest service working
Photo: Lower limbs being removed to create a shaded fuel break to reduce wildfire risk

Before cutting or clearing trees or woody vegetation, check to see if any restrictions apply. Clearing of woody vegetation could impact the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. A permit is required to disturb or remove endangered species habitat any time of year. No one, not even permit-holders, can disturb the birds’ habitat during nesting season (March 1 to August 31). For help determining whether you may have endangered species on your property, and to learn about obtaining a permit and mitigation options, see Development in Endangered Species Habitat.

To report the clearing of golden-cheeked warbler habitat during nesting season (March through August), please contact both Travis County Natural Resources ([email protected], 512-854-7213) and Tanya Sommer at the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service ([email protected], 512-490-0057 Ext. 222). We ask that you include both agencies because Travis County is responsible for enforcing nesting season clearing restrictions for BCCP permit holders, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for enforcing these restrictions in all other cases.

If you suspect that golden-cheeked warbler habitat is being cleared without the proper permit outside of nesting season (September through February), please contact Travis County at [email protected] or 512-854-7213. Travis County Natural Resources maintains a database of properties that are permitted to clear habitat, and will forward reports of illegal clearing to USFWS.

group of hikers
Photo: Group of hikers

While the primary purpose of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) is wildlife habitat, the BCP’s managing partners are committed to creating opportunities for public recreation and education. Visit our interactive map to learn about areas of the preserve that are regularly open to the public. While the majority of the preserve is not generally open, many areas can be accessed by joining a guided hike or volunteering.

If you see evidence of trespassing, please report it to our patrol officer, Sally Wolfe. In case of an emergency, always call 911 first. Trespassing, besides being illegal, presents a safety risk for both the trespasser and surrounding neighborhoods. Reducing trespassing is a key way to prevent wildfire, since about 90% of fires are started by people, either intentionally or by accident.

completed shaded fuel break
Photo: Completed shaded fuel break

BCP land managers take wildfire very seriously, and each year they complete fuel mitigation projects to minimize risk. The most effective fuel mitigation method for oak-juniper woodlands in Central Texas is a shaded fuel break, which is different from the fire breaks used in many other areas of the country. Unlike a traditional “firebreak,” shaded fuel breaks leave the tree canopy intact to shade out grasses and other fine fuels, which are more likely to ignite than trees.

Shaded fuel breaks are created by pruning and thinning Ashe juniper (cedar) and live oak trees within a zone that can extend up to 100 feet from the property boundary. Removing these “ladder fuels” reduces the risk of surface fires reaching tree canopies, lowering the risk to homes and businesses. Together, BCP partners including Travis County, the City of Austin, and Travis Audubon have created more than 12.6 miles of shaded fuel breaks where the BCP borders development, including roads and houses. It’s important to note that these woodlands are not susceptible to frequent fires and under most conditions do not burn readily. However, under the extreme circumstances, fire is possible, and the BCP is actively managed with wildfire prevention in mind.

When fires do occur, the greatest risk to homes is from embers, which can travel more than a mile from the fire. The best way to protect your home from embers is to create defensible space, including “hardening” your home by sealing openings, screening vents, and cleaning gutters. Learn more about creating defensible space from the Central Texas-specific Ready, Set, Go! The Travis County Fire Marshal's site will also tell you if a burn ban is in effect and provide tips for safe outdoor cooking and work such as welding, cutting, and grinding. More than 95% of wildfires are started by people or man-made infrastructure like power lines, so practicing fire-safe behavior can go a long way towards preventing wildfire.

Also, please be aware that some common “fuel reduction” strategies can actually increase fire risk. For example, clear-cut woodlands often become grasslands, which are more likely to ignite than live trees. When removing vegetation, also consider proper disposal – piles of dead branches and dry leaves can themselves become fuel. When trimming, please also respect property boundaries. It’s illegal to cut vegetation on someone else’s property without permission. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources to help; consider working with your local Firewise committee or fire department to learn the most effective ways to reduce risk.

Through the collaborative efforts of homeowners, preserve managers, and local fire departments, both private property and the BCP can be protected from the devastation of wildfire.

For more on protecting your home or business:

a star filled sky by thomas lepori
Photo by Thomas LePori

Light pollution affects every living being. It disrupts our circadian rhythms, keeping us from getting restful sleep. It drowns out the stars, causing migratory birds and monarch butterflies to lose their way.

Most people think more light means higher security, but glare from bright lights can actually reduce visibility. Learn about simple changes that can reduce impacts to health, improve safety, and bring back the stars.

Learn more from:

The International Dark-Sky Association
Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Dark Skies Program

coyote
 

Coyotes are native to Texas and an important part of the local ecosystem. In the majority of cases, it is possible to coexist peacefully with coyotes. Learn how to avoid attracting them to your yard, and how to “haze” them if necessary so they will stay away from people and pets.

Learn more from:

City of Austin Animal Services
non-venomous eastern blackneck garter snake by paul fushille
Photo: Non-venomous black-necked garter snake photographed by Paul Fushille

Most snakes in Central Texas pose little or no threat to humans and even help control the rodent population. But it is important to know the four venomous snakes found in the area: the western diamondback rattlesnake, coral snake, copperhead, and cottonmouth, also known as a water moccasin. They are not aggressive, and do not attack unless they feel threatened or cornered, so it’s best not to approach them. There are a number of professionals in the area who can remove unwanted snakes from yards and homes.

Learn more about the frequently asked questions regarding snakes from Texas Parks & Wildlife.

feral hogs

Hogs are not native to this area, and they do tremendous damage to the land, both public and private. Travis County has an active hog trapping program, as do many of the other Balcones Canyonlands Preserve managing partners.

Learn more about Feral Hogs on the Texas Parks & Wildlife page.

oak wilt at pace bend
Photo: Evidence of oak wilt on the leaves of a red oak

Avoid all pruning or cutting of oaks from February through June, the high season for oak wilt transmission. Any wounds that occur from construction, vehicles, wind, etc., should be painted as soon as they’re discovered – ideally within ½ hour of being cut.

Pruning is least risky during the coldest winter days and extended hot periods in mid to late summer. Any time you prune though, the Texas Forest Service recommends painting all wounds and sanitizing pruning equipment between trees.

For more information, visit TexasOakWilt.org

heavenly bamboo
Photo: Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is highly invasive

Common non-native invasive plants in our area include Chinaberry trees (Melia azedarach), glossy privet (Ligustrum ludicum), and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). These plants spread quickly, choking out native plants and depriving local wildlife of the food and shelter that native plants provide. Some are even dangerous to wildlife, like heavenly bamboo, whose berries contain cyanide and are poisonous to birds and other animals. Consequently, invaded areas have fewer species of birds, pollinators, and other wildlife.

Non-native invasive species are very expensive to monitor and control, and they cause millions of dollars of damage annually to crops, fisheries, forests, and other resources.

Despite this, many are still available in nurseries, and homeowners often aren’t aware of the negative impact they can have. For more information on non-native invasives common to our area and how to remove them from your yard, visit TexasInvasives.org’s spotlight on the Texas Hill Country. It also has a list of native plants that make good replacements for invasives.

dumping by heather valey
Photo: Dumping on the preserve - photo by Heather Valey

It is illegal to dump any materials on the preserve, including cut branches and yard trimmings. It often presents a hazard to wildlife and can increase the risk of wildfire. If you see anyone dumping on the preserve, please report it to our patrol officer. In case of an emergency, always call 911 first.

cat

Keeping pet cats indoors can dramatically increase their lifespan and overall health. According to the American Humane Society, outdoor cats are more vulnerable to disease and parasites, and they are at risk of being hit on the road or attacked by a loose dog or wild animal.

Outdoor cats also have a negative impact on local wildlife. Many people don’t realize that even well-fed cats still hunt. According to the American Bird Conservancy, in the US alone, outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds a year. After habitat loss, outdoor cats are the #1 cause of bird population decline.

So for the safety of both cats and local wildlife, please consider keeping pets indoors unless supervised. The American Humane Society offers tips on how to keep indoor cats happy.

tawny ants
Photo: Tawny crazy ants preying on a millipede in Whirlpool Cave

Tawny crazy ants have been wreaking havoc in homes and businesses from here to Houston and along the Gulf Coast. These non-native ants can multiply by the millions, and are a nuisance in yards and homes, especially with electrical systems and devices. They can also do a lot of damage to natural areas, impacting a wide range of wildlife from bird nestlings to native insects. Sensitive cave ecosystems are particularly at risk.

These invasive ants generally arrive in a new area stowed away in landscaping and building materials. Here are some tips from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension to help prevent their spread:

  • Acquire landscaping materials from trusted dealers who diligently inspect their products and treat or destroy materials that contain invasive ants.
  • Confirm that the vendor has examined all materials for the presence of tawny crazy ants.
  • Check felled trees before mulching or stump grinding; avoid infested areas.
  • Inspect all landscaping and building materials before transporting them to any non-infested site.
  • Hold landscaping material for 24 to 48 hours on asphalt or cement and inspect for ants before installation.

Download the full brochure from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.

Learn more about current research to control populations of Tawny Crazy Ants from this TPWD video.

TAX RATE: TRAVIS COUNTY ADOPTED A TAX RATE THAT WILL RAISE MORE TAXES FOR MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS THAN LAST YEAR'S TAX RATE. THE TAX RATE WILL EFFECTIVELY BE RAISED BY 3.6 PERCENT AND WILL RAISE TAXES FOR MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS ON A $100,000 HOME BY APPROXIMATELY $11.00.
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