“Fifty years from now, our children and grandchildren are going to look back and say, ‘How is it that they had the foresight to do this sort of thing?’ It’s as powerful in this time as the creation of Central Park was in another century.” – Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt at the permit-signing ceremony establishing the BCCP on May 2, 1996
A preserve differs from a park in that it is created specifically for the protection of wildlife or natural resources. The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) is actually a system of preserves consisting of several tracts of land in western Travis County, totaling 26,868 acres as of May 2004. This land is held in the public trust for the specific purpose of preserving the unique biodiversity of the region for both current and future generations. The BCP differs from the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge owned and operated by the federal government.
The overriding goal of the BCP is to protect the welfare of the species targeted by the conservation plan. Given this priority, access into the preserve areas is allowable only if endangered species protection is not compromised. After species conservation, recreational opportunities are considered a secondary use of the Preserve lands. Decisions on what recreational activities are allowed within preserve areas are made based on whether the activity will be detrimental to either the species or the habitat.
The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP) represents a compromise between land development for economic growth and land preservation for endangered species. It established a method whereby landowners in Travis County may proceed with otherwise lawful activities on their land that impact identified habitat by purchasing or setting aside habitat of equal quality—a process known as mitigation. In order for Austin to continue to benefit from this compromise, the long-term viability of the Preserve to provide habitat for the species of concern, such as the golden-cheeked warbler, must be sustained.
The Bull Creek Nature Preserve is one preserve within the larger Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system. The 1,140 contiguous acres making up the Bull Creek Nature Preserve were acquired by the City of Austin to protect the golden-cheeked warbler using funds expressly designated for the purchase of endangered species habitat. Because the Bull Creek Nature Preserve is considered prime habitat for the warbler, access during the breeding season (March 1 through July 31) is by permit only. Many recreational activities can have a negative impact on the behavior and productivity of birds. The Bull Creek Nature Preserve is open to hiking without a permit during the non-nesting season (August 1 – February 28th or 29th if a leap year), as long as recreational activities do not result in significant modifications to either land or vegetation. Even though warblers are in Mexico and Central America during the non-nesting season, it is vital to protect against the degradation of soil, vegetation, and water resources year-round in order to preserve the habitat and overall ecosystem upon which the warbler depends.
Given the potential for degrading or disturbing habitat, horseback riding, dog walking, and mountain biking are not allowed within the Bull Creek Nature Preserve at any time.