News & Notices
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.
Click here to see the official press release.
May 13, 2011
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced approval of the Hays County RHCP on May 13, 2011. The associated incidental take permit is expected to be issued to Hays County in June 2011. Click here for a copy of the Service's Press Release announcing the availability of final documents and the Service's draft Record of Decision regarding permit issuance.
November 24, 2010
Hays County has purchased approximately 1,000 acres of the Nicholson Ranch in western Hays County as the first habitat preserve for the RHCP. The property contains approximately 800 acres of quality GCW habitat and will provide the initial balance of conservation credits needed to implement the RHCP as soon as the permit is issued. Click here for a November 24, 2010 article in the Hays Free Press about the purchase. The USFWS is in the final stages of processing the County´s permit application, and issuance of the permit is anticipated in early 2011.
September 17, 2010
Final versions of the RHCP and the EIS are available for review. Digital versions are posted on the Documents Page, and hard copies are available for inspection at the San Marcos Public Library. Additional hard copies are available for review at Commissioner Karen Ford´s office in Dripping Springs and Commmissioner Will Conley´s office in Wimberley.
February 23, 2010:
The Hays County Commissioners Court announced that it has reviewed recommendations made by the County?s Parks and Open Space Advisory Board (POSAB) regarding 15 properties submitted to the County for conservation use and has authorized The Nature Conservancy to act as its real estate advisor for parks bond properties going forward. While all 15 properties are still under consideration, The Nature Conservancy will use POSAB?s rankings as a guide. Read the full PRESS REALEASE.
November 2, 2009:
The public comment period for the final draft RHCP and draft EIS has been extended until February 1, 2010. You may use the COMMENT FORM to submit your comments on these documents to the USFWS Austin Office.
The USFWS has posted a Notice of Availability of a Draft EIS (published October 30, 2009) and a notice of receipt of the draft RHCP, the public hearing, and the public comment period (published November 2, 2009). Click here for a copy of the Federal Register notices.
October 19, 2009: NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING
In accordance with Texas Parks & Wildlife Code 83.019, Hays County will conduct a public hearing to discuss the County's application for a federal Endangered Species Act Section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit and possible adoption of the RHCP and related items. The public hearing will be held from 5:00-8:00pm on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 in Meeting Room 1 of the San Marcos Activity Center located at 501 E. Hopkins Road, San Marcos. View the published notice here.
October 16, 2009:
Hays County and the USFWS have prepared a FINAL DRAFT RHCP (dated September 28, 2009) and a DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (EIS, dated October 14, 2009) for public review and comment. The final drafts address comments by the USFWS recieved after submittal of the County's application package on March 31, 2009. Both drafts are posted on the Documents page of this website. Alternatively, a limited number of printed copies of the documents are available for public inspection and review at the following locations (by appointment only at government offices):
The USFWS is accepting written comments on the draft documents until January 14, 2010. You may submit written comments to:
attn: Ms. Luela Roberts, Chief of Consultations and HCPs
10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78758
Oral comments will be accepted at a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, November 18, 2009 from 5:00-8:00pm at the San Marcos Activity Center.
April 2, 2009:
Hays County submitted the March 4, 2009 Draft RHCP and the March 27, 2009 Preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the USFWS on March 31, 2009. The RHCP and PDEIS support an application for an Endangered Species Act incidental take permit from the USFWS. The USFWS will is expected to hold a public hearing on the draft EIS and proposed permit issuance in summer 2009. More information will be posted on this site as it becomes available.
March 11, 2009:
The Hays County Commissioners' Court held a work session on March 10, 2009 to review the March 4, 2009 Application Draft of the Hays County RHCP. The Application Draft incorporates comments from the USFWS and Loomis presented the major changes to the RHCP since the November 3, 2008 draft. Loomis also explained the remainder of the process, including the anticipated schedule for applicaton submittal, the next opportunity for public comment, and permit issuance. The Commissioners expressed their appreciation of the work of the CAC and BAT members, the consultant teams, and spoke in favor of the plan. A motion to approve the plan for submittal to the USFWS passed by a vote of 4-0 (Judge Sumter was absent).
January 6, 2009:
The USFWS issued a 90-day finding on some of the species included in a petition by the Forest Guardians (now, WildEarth Guardians) to list 475 species in the southwestern U.S. as threatened or endangered. Several of the petitioned species are included as evaluation or additional species in the RHCP. Sixteen of the evaluation species were addressed by the USFWS 90-day finding, for which it was determined that insufficient inforamtion was provided to warrant listing these species under the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS's 90-day finding did not change the status of these species under the Act or affect how they are addressed in the RHCP.
December 9, 2008:
The Hays County Commissioners' Court held a work session to discuss the third draft RHCP, with a focus on the County's anticipated obligations under the RHCP and the funding plan. The County also discussed the remaining steps in the process, from completion of the application draft RHCP and Preliminary Draft EIS anticipated in late January/early February and through permit issuance anticpated in late 2009. Presentations and materials from the work session are posted on the Documents page.
November 24, 2008:
The CAC and BAT held meetings in November to discuss comments on the second draft RHCP and review the major changes in the third draft RHCP. Both committees recommended that the Hays County Commissioners consider the third draft RHCP as the basis for a permit application. Click here to view a letter from the CAC to the Commissioners' Court stating their recommendations. Click here for a letter from the BAT Chair expressing the BAT's recommendations.
November 6, 2008:
The third draft of the Hays County Regional Habitat Conservation Plan is available for public review. Click here for documents to download.
October 14, 2008:
The CAC recommends that the Hays County Commissioners use the remaining funds from the 2007 Parks and Open Space Bond for projects that protect habitat for the warbler and/or vireo. Click here to view a letter from teh CAC to the Commissioners.
September 16, 2008:
The consultant teams have prepared a revised Second Draft of the RHCP and have begun work on the Preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The CAC and BAT discussed the Second Draft RHCP during their September meetings. The CAC met on September 11 in Wimberley, but lacked a quorum. However, the CAC heard a presentation regarding funding for the RHCP and generally discussed changes to the draft RHCP since the May version. The CAC will meet again in early October. The BAT met September 16 in San Marcos and also discussed the Second Draft RHCP. Other topics covered by the BAT included habitat models and issues raised by the CAC regarding Ashe juniper and water resources.
June 13, 2008:
The BAT and CAC held meetings on June 3 and June 12, respectively, to review and comment on the Preliminary Draft Hays County Regional HCP and Funding Plan. The BAT recommended the addition of a cave-obligate blind leech to and the removal of the Cagle's Map Turtle from the the list of evaluation species included in the Plan. The BAT also discussed how to translate acres of warbler habitat to estiamtes of population size. The CAC heard detailed presentations regarding the propsed funding plan for the RHCP and discussed funding options. The CAC also discussed preserve size goals and conservation measures for karst and aquatic species. Individual comments from members of both committees are due to the consultant team by July 18, 2008 for incorporation into the next draft of the RHCP. The Hays County Commissioner's Court held a work session to discuss the Preliminary Draft RHCP and the Funding Plan on June 10, 2008. The Court also discussed the overall status of the project and the NEPA scoping meeting.
June 3, 2008:
The BAT met June 3, 2008 to discuss the species included in the HCP, the warbler habitat map and density estimates, and the preliminary first draft of the HCP document.
May 16, 2008:
The US Fish and Wildlife Service published a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement related to the Hays County RHCP. The notice announces a public scoping meeting to be held on June 18th in San Marcos. The deadline for submission of public comments to the Service is July 18, 2008.
April 26, 2008:
The County Commissioners, CAC, BAT, and other interested HCP participants were invited on a field trip highlighting the species, habitats, and other natural resources that are the center of the HCP effort. About 20 people caravanned to several properties across Hays County, including Halifax Ranch and Falls Ranch where the group observed golden-cheeked warblers (courtesy of Bill and Kate Johnson); Fern Bank Springs to observe aquatic habitat for Eurycea salamders and endangered invertebrates (courtesy of Brandi and Kent Keith); Ashmun 101 Ranch to crawl into the Taylor Bat Cave, look at one of the locations known to contain Eurycea salamders, and visit with a conservation easement owner (courtesy of Anne Ashmun); and Jacob's Well to see another of the important aquatic habitats in the county (courtesy of David Baker and the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association). Photos of the trip are posted on the Gallery page. Thank you to all that participated!
April 14, 2008:
The Citizens Advisory Committee on March 27, 2008 to discuss the recommended conservation strategy for the HCP. The CAC members reviewed three different approaches for structuring the conservation progam of the HCP and agreed by consensus to recommend a hybrid approach. The recommendation from the CAC was to pursue a conservation strategy that included a modestly sized initial preserve system and a rolling conservation bank with the ultimate goal of assembling a preserve system that includes approxiamtely 32,000 acres of habitat for the covered species. The Biological Advisory Team met on March 28, 2008 and provided comment on preserve design criteria, habitat determinations, and mitigation assessments. The consultant team will take the recommendations and comments from the committees and prepare a first draft of the HCP for review and comment by the County and the committees in June.
March 5, 2008:
The Citizens Advisory Committee met February 20, 2008 at the Wimberley Community Center and discussed a set of draft alternatives for the structure of the HCP, including preserve sizes, acquisition methods, and funding. These topics will be revisited at the next meeting, with potential action on choosing a preferred alternative for the plan. The Biological Advisory Team met on Feburary 28, 2008 in San Marcos. The BAT discussed how to address the San Marcos salamander and other federally listed aquatic species under the plan and draft alternatives for habitat determinations, mitigation assessments, and preserve design for the plan. The BAT will continue these discussions at the next meeting, with possible action on preliminary recommendations for the plan. The Hays County Commissioners Court held a work session related to the HCP at the court house on February 26, 2008. The Court recieved presentations from the project team regarding recommendations for species included under the plan, the draft habitat maps, and the draft alternatives for the structure of the plan, and funding options.
January 11, 2008:
The BAT met on January 8, 2008 and released draft recommendations for species to address in the HCP. The BAT recommended that the plan cover the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo for incidental take. The BAT also recommended that the plan include karst species and the Cagle's map turtle as "evaluation species of concern", and several other species as "additional species of concern". The BAT also discussed biological considerations for species protection and preserve design. The CAC met on January 10, 2008 and discussed the BAT species recommendations and initial funding "guesstimates" and options for the HCP.
December 14, 2007:
The BAT met on December 6, 2007 in San Marcos to continue discussion on the species to address in the HCP and how to include them in the plan. The BAT also began discussion of possible conservation strategies and preserve design options.
November 13, 2007:
The Hays County Commissioners' Court approved a grant application to the US Fish and Wildlife Service prepared by Zara Environmental, Inc. requesting $54,063.75 in federal funds to research karst habitat in Hays County (Agenda Item 20). The research would support the conservation efforts of the HCP and help fill inforamtion gaps for karst species in Hays County. The County would provide a 25% match for the grant funds, for a total project budget of $72,085.
November 8, 2007:
The Biological Advisory Team and the Citizens Advisory Committee held meetings in early November to discuss which species should be included in the HCP and how to address them in the plan. The CAC also began discussions regarding potential conservation models for the Hays County HCP. Additional disucssion on both topics will continue at future meetings.
November 6, 2007:
The Hays County Commissioners' Court approved a contract for economist Joe Lessard to begin work on the Hays County HCP. More inforamtion about Mr. Lessard will be available on the Project Team page.
October 9, 2007:
Both the Biological Advisory Team and the Citizens Advisory Committee held meetings during the week of October 8, 2007. BAT members were introducted to the project and asked to make biological recommendations on which species should be addressed by the HCP and how they should be covered. The CAC also discussed the issue and heard presentations on other regional planning efforts. Meeting materials, including the agenda, handouts, and minutes are posted on the BAT and CAC pages.
September 13, 2007:
The Citizens Advisory Committee held a meeting September 13, 2007 in San Marcos. Landowner members of the CAC selected a representative for the BAT. Presentations were given to the CAC on the legal requirements of a regional HCP and preliminary analysis of the potential impacts of future population growth and land development on sensitive resources. Meeting materials, including the agenda and handouts, are posted on the CAC page. Meeting minutes will be posted once approved by the CAC.
August 7, 2007:
The Hays County Commissioners Court appointed 5 members to the Biological Advisory Team (BAT) during the August 7, 2007 court session. These 5 members are experts on the species and resources of Hays County, land management practices, and/or conservation biology, and will help evaluate the biological aspects of the HCP. The Commissioners Court also selected Mr. Joe Lessard as the Economist for the Project Team.
July 5, 2007:
The Citizens Advisory Committee held their first meeting on Thursday, July 5, 2007 in Dripping Springs (Dripping Springs Independent School District Board Room at 510 West Mercer, Dripping Springs, Texas 78620). Meeting materials, including the agenda and handouts, are posted on the CAC page. Meeting minutes will be posted once approved by the CAC.
June 27, 2007:
The Hays County Commissioners' Court appointed two additional members to the Citizens Advisory Committee (Agenda Item 29) during the June 26, 2007 session. The Court also approved an extension of the federal grant and interlocal agreement funding the development of the HCP from July 31, 2007 to July 30, 2009 (Agenda Item 5).
June 12, 2007:
Hays County Commissioners' Court took up two items related to the Habitat Conservation plan during the June 12, 2007 court session. The Court approved appointments to the HCP's Citizens Advisory Committee (Agenda Item 15). The Commissioners' Court also approved a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for an economist to assist with plan development (Agenda Item 19).
January 29, 2007:
Hays County Commissioners' Court held a work session to introduce the new Commissioners to the project. The Commissioners, County staff, and consultant team discussed progress made on the project, current tasks, and next steps. The current phase of the project involves forming advisory committees, analyzing baseline data, and developing initial options for the structure of the plan.
October 24, 2006:
Hays County Commissioners' Court unanimously approved a detailed Work Plan prepared by the consultant team to complete the Hays County Habitat Conservation Plan. The detailed Work Plan breaks the project into six phases, each concluding with a key project milestone.