596-Acre Ranch Protected for Balcones NWR (TX)

AUSTIN, Texas – Prime nesting habitat land for two endangered songbirds—the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler—has been preserved as part of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, located 30 miles northwest of Austin. Last week, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) transferred 596 acres from the Penn family to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for its permanent protection and management. Originally part of the 20,000-acre Sunset Ranch, this parcel is critically situated to other important habitat lands and will connect almost 9,000 acres of protected land at the Balcones Refuge.

The project marks TPL’s seventh collaboration with USFWS for the Balcones Refuge, bringing the total acreage protected through this partnership to more than 1,700 acres.

TPL worked with the landowner, Thomas Penn, who was looking for a way to protect family lands that had been assembled by his great-grandfather in the early 1900s and stewarded by five generations of the family. “Our family has a deep love for this property,” said Penn. “This was simply the right thing to do for our family, our neighbors at the Balcones Refuge and others who appreciate these special pieces of the Texas Hill Country.”

The property was purchased by USFWS with funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which were secured by U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Additional funds are being sought from LWCF for the second phase of this project, which includes an additional 433 acres. “Balcones is a beautiful part of the Texas Hill Country,” said Sen. Hutchison, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I have secured $3.5 million in recent years to help expand this safe haven for local endangered species and create an even better place for nature lovers to visit. It’s important we preserve and protect this important wildlife refuge.”

“TPL was happy to work with our partners and the Penn family to protect these Hill Country lands,” said TPL project manager, Jenny Parks. “This addition to the Refuge will provide generations of Texans with another world class location for bird watching, and will also draw tourists from around the country to this wonderful place.”

“This was an extremely important addition to the Refuge,” said Deborah Holle, refuge manager. “Not only is this property ideal for Golden-cheeked warblers, but it also connects previously protected lands, reducing the fragmentation of the Balcones Refuge.”

The Balcones Refuge was established in 1992 to conserve the nesting habitat for the endangered songbirds and other bird species that 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. Currently, only 19,000 acres of the 46,000 acres needed to complete the Refuge have been preserved.

Golden-cheeked warblers are migratory birds that nest in only 33 counties in central Texas. Male warblers arrive in mid-March and establish territories of three to six acres. Females arrive a few days later and quickly select their mates. Male warblers sing vigorously and loudly 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 Central America.

Often returning to the same area in subsequent years, male black-capped vireos arrive in Texas from late March to mid-April and set up territories that average two to four 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. During August and September, these 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. For more information please visit us on the web at www.tpl.org/texas