Golden-cheeked Warbler, Dendroica chrysoparia. (c) Steve Maslowski, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Golden-cheeked Warbler, Dendroica chrysoparia. (c) Steve Maslowski, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

Recovery Credit System “Proof of Concept” Third-Party Evaluation

 

Fort Hood Military Reservation and the Golden-cheeked Warbler

Fort Hood Military Reservation is located in central Texas on an oak-juniper mesa approximately halfway between Austin and Waco. The 217,000-acre campus serves as the training grounds for the Army’s largest armored force.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Golden-cheeked Warbler, Dendroica chrysoparia, in 1990 as a federally endangered songbird. It migrates annually from Central America to central Texas to breed – the only bird species with a breeding range confined to Texas.

Fort Hood Military Reservation is home to the largest known population of the Golden-cheeked Warbler in North America. Further, a number of private tracts of land surrounding the base also provides exceptional warbler habitat.

In the mid-1990s, the US Fish and Wildlife Service discovered populations of the Golden-cheeked Warbler on the military reservation and, consequently, locked down one-third of Fort Hood’s 217,000 acres to prevent negative impact from military training exercises on this endangered neotropical songbird.

Recovery Credit System

In March 2005, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion that required the Army to engage in off-site conservation efforts. Consequently, the Army began exploring the possibility of an off-site conservation program in which private landowners voluntarily participate in exchange for technical guidance and cost-share assistance to protect the warbler.

The Recovery Credit System was the product of this effective exploration with stakeholder groups, establishing performance term contracts and habitat conservation incentives for participating landowners. Stakeholders included military leaders at Fort Hood, area landowners, the Texas Agriculture Commission, and Texas A&M University.

Proof of Concept

 A three-year pilot project, or “proof of concept,” began officially in 2006 to offset adverse effects to warbler habitat occurring on Fort Hood and to achieve a net benefit toward the recovery of the species.

In exchange for this conservation work on private lands, the Army was granted credits by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for unavoidable ongoing habitat damage on the reservation. The crediting resulted in the lifting of land use restrictions on a large portion of Fort Hood.

Third-Party Evaluation

The Department of Defense contracted with Robertson Consulting Group, Inc. (Sarasota, FL) to provide an independent third-party review of the Recovery Credit System “Proof of Concept.”

Principal authors of the 2010 report were Drs. Shelley Robertson and H. Bruce Rinker. The authors designed the review to meet the following needs:

  • To provide an objective and thorough evaluation of the three-year proof of concept for both the process and the intended impact.
  • To assess the utility of the Recovery Credit System.

According to the review, the Recovery Credit System provides significant contributions to both conservation and the military by:

  • Working toward the recovery of an endangered species.
  • Extending conservation outside the boundaries of the reservation by engaging private landowners in incentive-based conservation.
  • Formalizing a market-based tool for trading credits.
  • Providing an additional method for removing restrictions on military training operations.

Summary

The Recovery Credit System is a framework for federal agencies to implement recovery measures for threatened and endangered species under which federal agencies may offset adverse effects of agency actions taken elsewhere for that species.

The project developed at Fort Hood provides an excellent illustration of private-public cooperative conservation and innovation.

The executive summary and full evaluation report may be found here at Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. Suggested citation: Robertson, Shelley and H.B. Rinker. March 2010. “Third Party Evaluation of the Recovery Credit System Proof of Concept. Robertson Consulting Group, Inc., Sarasota, FL. 101 pp.