In a major step for conservation in Central Texas, Travis Audubon has entered into an agreement with Travis County that will ensure a permanent, protected home for the Golden-cheeked Warbler, an endangered songbird.
Travis Audubon agreed to provide a permanent easement over most of its 715-acre Baker Sanctuary to the county and will manage the preserve in perpetuity. As a result, the undeveloped land will become part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.
Baker Sanctuary, located in northwest Travis County, is a destination for many birders from around the world wanting to catch sight of the Golden-cheeked Warbler. The small bird, with distinctive yellow-and-black markings, is a true Texas native. It nests in only 33 counties in Central Texas—nowhere else in the world. Each March, the birds arrive to bear and raise their young, then in late summer migration begins to Mexico and Central America. Golden-cheeked Warblers have been listed as endangered since 1990 due to habitat loss.
Travis County has been working for several years to assemble a minimum of 30,428 acres of endangered species habitat in the western part of the county. The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) was created to protect habitat for endangered bird species, karst (cave) invertebrates and other species of concern.
The effort to form BCP began in the 1990s in partnership with the county, city of Austin and Lower Colorado River Authority, as well as the Nature Conservancy and Travis Audubon Society.
Travis Audubon began acquiring land for Baker Sanctuary in the 1960s. A full-time steward manages the site and the public is invited on special occasions for hikes and education programs. Travis Audubon also uses Baker’s open-air education center for after-school nature camps with Leander ISD.
“Travis Audubon was the first organization ever to put land aside for Golden-cheeked Warblers—starting with 94 acres at Baker Sanctuary,” said former Board President Valarie Bristol. “We have voluntarily participated as conservationists for years and years. But now we’ve agreed to permanent participation. We’ll be the custodians of this land in perpetuity.”
The nonprofit plans to use the roughly $3,500,000 to both create an endowment to manage and preserve the sanctuary and to expand its educational outreach. Excluded from the conservation agreement is 40 acres of the total 715 acres, which includes the site of the Jackie Arnold open-air Education Center, the original Baker family cabin, cemetery and windmill.
“Baker is a beautiful and important nature preserve and we want people to be inspired by it. We hope to improve and reinterpret our 8-miles of hiking trails on the property to provide greater access to the public in the non-nesting season,” said Board President, Barry Lyon.
The National Audubon climate report published last September estimates that 50 percent of all bird species in the United States are facing decline, making strategic habitat preservation all the more vital. “These funds are about securing the future of Baker Sanctuary for the benefit of all Texans,” said Executive Director Joan Marshall.
Travis Audubon Society (TAS) was founded in 1952 as a chapter of National Audubon Society. The mission of TAS is to promote the enjoyment, understanding and conservation of native birds and their habitats by inspiring conservation through birding. TAS owns Baker Sanctuary and two other wildlife sanctuaries in the Austin area.