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City protects military training, endangered species

By Johnny Hernandez
It is a protection plan that some of the development communities of northern Bexar County are not exactly in love with, but one with which they are willing to comply.
Earlier this week, City Council approved development controls as a way to protect the vital military training missions at Camp Bullis and Fort Sam Houston, not to mention the natural habitat of the Golden-cheeked Warbler in and around the Government Canyon State Natural Area.

Residential development presses against the Camp Bullis, Texas, fence line. San Antonio and other neighboring jurisdictions recently teamed up to protect the camp’s expanding training mission in the nation’s third-fastest growing metropolitan area.
(Photo Source: Neal Snyder, U.S. Army Environmental Command)

Developers with proposed projects near Camp Bullis will be required to submit an affidavit to the city in order to certify that they have complied with the federal Endangered Species Act. Developers will also have to release the name of the biologist who performs the required environmental assessment, as well as the exact date it was completed.
Golden-cheeked Warblers are endangered because many tall juniper and oak woodlands have been cleared to build houses, roads and shopping malls in that area. Some habitat was cleared to grow crops and grass for livestock as well, while other habitat areas were flooded when large lakes were built.
Warblers are not exactly going extinct, but are being forced to flock into military training grounds and skies, where helicopter medic training programs take place, but it’s not all about the birds.
The Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) was proposed, but later placed on the bottom shelf of former Mayor Howard Peak’s term in office, and later reintroduced during Hardberger’s term in 2008. As concerns from military officials continue to grow and be voiced, Mayor Julian Castro has now set in motion a series of JLUS recommendations in order to preserve the nighttime helicopter medic training conducted at Camp Bullis.
“Thursday’s vote sends a strong signal to the community that protecting the military is a priority in San Antonio,” Castro said. “We will do whatever is legally enforceable to make sure we continue to be known as Military City USA for decades to come.”
Military officials applauded Mayor Castro and City Council for their actions, along with the City Manager’s Office for conducting regular bi-weekly meetings with military officials.
“We appreciate their work with us, and all interested parties, to craft a very balanced (endangered species) ordinance,” said Col. Mary Garr, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison-Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis. “This ordinance is one very successful step in establishing a comprehensive strategy to ensuring community support for current and future Department of Defense missions at Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, including protection of our vital training missions.”
In a separate vote, the Council also approved a measure that expands a buffer zone from the current three to now five miles of Camp Bullis grounds, within which downward lighting must be used on new developments, preventing light pollution for the nighttime helicopter training programs.
The Mayor’s office is asking CPS Energy to retrofit roadway lighting in order to comply with the downward lighting regulations. New developments are required to comply with downward lighting, but current homeowners are only being asked to voluntarily retrofit their existing lighting fixtures.
Implementing JLUS recommendations will not stop development near Camp Bullis and Fort Sam Houston, but it will make it less obtrusive. As for the Golden-cheeked Warblers, they will have to learn to adapt and coexist with regulated development and military choppers when they are not spending the winter in parts of Mexico and Central America.

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