Land Added to Endangered Bird Haven (TX)

March 26, 2004
Press release

AUSTIN, Texas, 3/26/04: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today it has preserved 96 acres of Hill Country terrain, completing the protection of the 457-acre McKeever property. Located about 30 miles northwest of Austin, the property will be included in the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

TPL transferred the property from the McKeever family to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for permanent protection and management.

The latest tract is a top FWS priority because the land provides ideal habitat for two federally protected songbirds—the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. The primary purpose of the refuge is to conserve the nesting habitat for these endangered songbirds and other bird species which visit the area during the annual migration from breeding grounds in the United States and Canada to wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America.

The property was purchased by FWS with funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was secured by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

"We Texans are lovers of nature and the outdoors," Senator Hutchison said. "Protecting our natural habitats and wildlife is a desire we all share. I was proud to help secure these funds to enhance the Texas Hill Country and its wildlife. This effort will help protect the endangered species and unique environment of the Balcones for generations to come."

"Protecting such a unique place so close to Austin, with this partnership, has been very special," said Jenny Parks, TPL project manager. "We deeply appreciate the leadership shown by Senator Hutchison, which has helped protect this special place. It is exciting that Texans now have another place where they can experience the fascinating wildlife that pass through this region."

"We're thrilled to have added this ideal songbird habitat to the Balcones Canyonlands Refuge, rather than lose it to development," said Deborah Holle, refuge manager. "We value our partnership with the Trust for Public Land, and are hopeful that this relationship will continue to produce significant conservation achievements for Balcones, and allow us to provide more recreational opportunities for generations to come."

The McKeever property—owned jointly by three brothers: Grant, Clark, and John, has been owned by the McKeever family for more than 50 years and has been used for ranching and family recreation. In 2002, after meeting with officials from the FWS, TPL crafted a deal with the brothers to convey shares of their property to the Balcones Refuge for permanent protection.

"This has always been a special place for our family, and we're very happy that we can now share it with others," said John McKeever, part-owner of the property. "There's so much to explore out here and no other place quite like it in the state."

The Balcones Canyonlands NWR was established in 1992. Currently, only 19,000 acres of the 46,000 acres needed to complete the Refuge have been preserved.

Additional funds are being sought this year from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase other significant bird habitat lands to be included in the refuge.

The golden-cheeked warbler is a migratory bird that nests in only 33 counties in central Texas. Male warblers arrive in mid-March and establish territories of 3 to 6 acres. Females arrive a few days later and quickly select their mates. Male warblers sing loud and vigorously defend their territories in order to attract females. By the end of July, the warblers fly to the mountainous areas of southern Mexico and to the east-central Guatemala through Honduras to Nicaragua.

During the winter, the Black-capped Vireo is found on the West Coast of Mexico. Often returning to the same area in subsequent years, male vireos arrive in Texas from late March to mid-April and set up territories that average 2 to 4 acres. Females chose mates as soon as possible after they arrive. Together, they build a single nest and participate in the incubation of the eggs. From August to September, the songbirds migrate back to Mexico for the winter.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 1.9 million acres of land in 45 states. In Texas, TPL has protected more than 26,000 acres for communities, including areas in and around Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.