Saving the Bracken Bat Cave
San Antonio City Councilman Ron Nirenberg announced an agreement last week to protect the world’s largest bat cave from encroachment by future development.
The city will join with several other entities to turn the 1,500-acre property, known as Crescent Hills, into a conservation easement that will permanently protect the area’s natural resources.
Nirenberg was one of the first city council members to take up the challenge to visit the Bracken Bat Cave. He wanted a greater understanding of the 10,000-year-old resource — and what the community would lose if bats could no longer thrive there.
A year later, he reported back to the community that a list of public entities and private donors have come together to guarantee protection of the property’s natural resources. “This was an effort — an interagency public-private partnership that I believe will serve as a model [for others] going forward. We believe in our property rights in Texas, and we also believe that there are important areas that are worth protecting for our public interest,” Nirenberg said.
Under the agreement, the Nature Conservancy will purchase 1,500 acres of wooded area that was destined for a dense housing development. The deal is backed by Bat Conservation International, the City of San Antonio, Bexar County, Comal County and the Edwards Aquifer Authority.
The Nature Conservancy’s Laura Huffman said all of Texas had been watching the situation. She believed the hard-fought solution would evolve as a best practice for fast-growing communities. “It’s hard to pull these things together. And on 5,000 acres in San Antonio, Texas, we’ve hit what we call ‘conservation trifecta.’ We’re protecting Bracken Bat Cave, we’re protecting the Edwards Aquifer, and we’re protecting important habitat for the Golden-cheeked Warbler,” Huffman said.
The agreement strikes a $20 million deal for the purchase of the acreage owned by Galo Properties, which had planned to construct 3,500 small-lot homes on the 1,500-acre tract.
Councilman Joe Krier said the deal protected the area’s water supply by eliminating the threat of the planned high-density development. “This land was already permitted to have up to 3,500 homes, which is to say 3,500 sewer connections constructed on it. And one of our ongoing worries about protecting the aquifer has been the danger of future sewage spills,” Krier said.
Completing the large conservation trifecta is adjacent acreage owned by Bat Conservation International and another large tract preserved by the U.S. Army as a protected habitat for the federally endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler.
Nirenberg announced the agreement Thursday afternoon, right after the San Antonio City Council authorized the $10 million it would contribute to the contract.
Bat Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy raised $5 million through private donations, while additional funding was provided by Bexar County, the U.S. Army, and the Edwards Aquifer Authority. “It’s quite nice to be part of an effort, especially when it comes from a place of not a whole lot of hope," Nirenberg said. "So being here today is a great pleasure indeed."