Development in Endangered Species Habitat

Endangered Species Act Compliance

drone shot of trees by russell hughes
Image by Russell Hughes

Travis County is home to 14 endangered species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA prohibits harming endangered species or their habitat. If a landowner wants to develop endangered species habitat, generally he or she needs to apply for a permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). However, there is an expedited option available for landowners in western Travis County who want to develop the habitat of any of the seven endangered species covered under the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP).

The seven species include the golden-cheeked warbler and six cave-dwelling (karst) invertebrates. The habitat for these species is found west of Interstate 35. Activities east of IH-35 will not impact these seven species, though it may affect the habitat of other endangered species.

Compliance with federal law is the landowner’s responsibility. The federal Endangered Species Act prohibits impacts to endangered species including removal of their habitat. Removal of endangered species habitat is illegal without the proper permits regardless of the time of year.

If your land or project is west of IH-35, check the BCCP habitat map to see which habitat zone(s) your property may contain. The map will also tell you if you are within the BCP Proposed Acquisition Zone, in which case you wouldn’t be eligible to mitigate through the BCCP; you’d need to obtain a permit from USFWS. You can check this by searching for your property or project using the interactive habitat map. Please note that this map is best viewed on a desktop.

The habitat map was created to streamline the BCCP public participation process. It is based on data that was available in 1996 when the BCCP was established, and will not change for the life of the BCCP, which extends until 2026. This means that if you mitigate through the BCCP, you do not need to conduct species surveys on your land as you would if pursuing a USFWS permit.

Landowners with endangered species habitat on their property (indicated either by the BCCP habitat maps or by a professional survey) may comply with the endangered species act in one of two ways:

  1. Consult directly with the USFWS to determine and mitigate the impacts your proposed project would have on endangered species. You may apply for an ESA 10(a)(1)(B) permit through the local USFWS office at: 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, Texas 78758, (512) 490-0057. Obtaining a USFWS permit can be a lengthy process. A permit from the USFWS entails developing a Habitat Conservation Plan that includes multiple-year species surveys, a mitigation proposal, a public involvement process, and meeting all permit issuance criteria. If you choose to work with the USFWS, you will not be eligible to use the BCCP participation process.
  2. Alternatively, you may be eligible to mitigate impacts to endangered species with a BCCP permit. This process is an alternative, streamlined option to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act administered by Travis County.

BCCP Permits

balcones canyonland preserve by russell hughes
Mitigation fees assessed through the BCCP are used to purchase and maintain the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Image by Russell Hughes.

Obtaining a BCCP permit is not mandatory; landowners can always choose to work with USFWS. There is no application fee, and submitting an application does not obligate the landowner to pursue a BCCP permit. Once an application is submitted, the County will calculate a mitigation fee for the number of acres of endangered species habitat that will be impacted by the proposed project according to the BCCP habitat map. Collected fees are used to purchase and manage land for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP). This process allows the loss of endangered species habitat to be mitigated through the permanent protection of other habitat.

Habitat determinations are provided within three weeks of the receipt of a complete application. See BCCP Permits for Landowners and Developers for a detailed description of the BBCP permit process. We are happy to answer any questions you may have. Please contact us at BCCP@traviscountytx.gov or (512) 854-7213.

The BCCP is also designed to mitigate for infrastructure projects such as roads, utility infrastructure, and cell towers. The City of Austin administers the BCCP Public Participation Infrastructure Process. BCCP Partners, including Travis County, are subject to the obligations of this permit and may also use the BCCP to mitigate for infrastructure projects. Read more about mitigation for infrastructure projects or contact the City of Austin for more information.

Black-Capped Vireo

The black-capped vireo was one of the endangered species that the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan and Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) were created to protect. In May 2018, the vireo was removed from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The delisting does not affect the preserve – the land will continue to be preserved in perpetuity. However, landowners who wish to remove black-capped vireo habitat from their properties are no longer required to mitigate for the removal of that habitat. Before beginning a construction or clearing project, however, please check the BCCP habitat map to see if there may be endangered golden-cheeked warbler or karst invertebrate habitat on your property.

Salamanders

jollyville plateau salamander
The Jollyville Plateau salamander (Eurycea tonkawae) is a threatened species that is protected within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Image by Nathan Bendik.

Three federally listed salamander species are known to occur in western Travis County: the Barton Springs, Austin Blind, and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. The BCCP does not cover these species, so any proposed development that would negatively affect endangered or threatened salamander habitat would need to be mitigated through the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This is the case even if you are already mitigating impact to other species through the BCCP.

If your project physically alters spring sites, potentially alters surface water or aquifer water quality or quantity, flow or other hydrologic regimes, including fill or sediment introduction to the drainages listed below, then you are advised to contact the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department at (512) 974-1862 or the USFWS at (512) 490-0057 before planning or proceeding with the project.

  • Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer,
  • Northern segment of the Edwards Aquifer,
  • Trinity Aquifer,
  • Local alluvial aquifers, or
  • Barton Creek, Cypress Creek, Bull Creek, Shoal Creek/Lady Bird Lake, or Walnut Creek surface watersheds.