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Jan 05 2022

16,237.5 Acres of San Antonio Park Properties Targeted

Op-Ed by Alesia Garlock

16,237.5 acres make up the City of San Antonio’s Park Properties – almost twenty-five square miles of target area for the USDA’s Wildlife Services (APHIS) to utilize sound blasts for wildlife relocation that would affect both the Migratory Birds and the public. Starting at Elmendorf Lake Park and Woodlawn Lake Park in 2019, a new plan revealed November of 2021 could shift the target area to include Historic Brackenridge Park come spring.

Dubbed as part of San Antonio’s 2017 Bond project to repair the damaged river wall at Brackenridge Park, will include the subsequent impact to the Migratory Birds nesting habitat and the fragmentation of a working landscape. A January 12th meeting of the Planning Commission will determine the outcome of the removal of the mature trees that line the banks of the river in the park. The exact number of trees to be removed is unknown. The trees range in age from seventy-five to over two hundred years. Removing these trees will impact the main tree canopy of a nesting habitat spanning more than a decade, leading to potential habitat loss for the birds. Habitat destruction, defined as the elimination or alteration of the conditions necessary for animals and plants to survive, not only impacts individual species but can impact the health of the ecosystem.

Come spring, the changing angle of sunlight will cue the preparation for migration. Egrets and Herons will make the long journey to nest in Texas and across the US from their winter grounds along the Gulf of Mexico coastline, Mexico, Central and South America-their furthest range.

The Habitat at Brackenridge Park hosts four species listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need-SGCN in Texas’s Conservation Action Plan (TCAP). The SGCN species, the Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron and Texas Protected Species the Tricolored Heron nest alongside other waterbirds. A decline in population of the Little Blue Heron earned a listing as a Species of High Concern by the Fish & Wildlife Service June 2021!

The State of Texas developed a State Wildlife Action Plan or SWAP, with Congress requiring the inclusion of eight “core elements” that focus on wildlife of greatest conservation need. Congress required each state to develop a State Wildlife Action Plan, to make the best use of the federal funds. These proactive plans assess the health of each state’s wildlife, including Habitats to identify the problems they face, and outline the actions that are needed to conserve them over the long term.  State Wildlife Action Plans: Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (fishwildlife.org) .  

The “Egret relocation plan” was kicked off late in 2019 with Cormorant hatchlings removed from their nests on “Bird Island” at Elmendorf Lake Park, followed by the removal of trees and vegetation. A USDA Work Initiation Document of Wildlife Damage Management 407001 request lists four species of Waterbirds, the Great Egret, Snowy Egret (SGCN), Cattle Egret and Cormorants, with 16,237.5 Acres of Park Property listed as land class on the document.

The City of San Antonio (CoSA) along with Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) initiated the “Egret Relocation plan,” reporting through local media, along with signs and mailers distributed to residents that Cattle Egrets that roost at Elmendorf Lake Park are ostensibly a threat to aircraft. The Cattle Egrets that roost for the night and nested on Bird Island at the park, were said to have been tracked and observed flying over the flight line at Kelly Field.

Next came the sound blasts echoing across the water of Elmendorf Lake Park.

Resident Mark C, “I recently moved into the neighborhood. What the city does at Bird Island sounds like gunfire. I hate hearing gunfire every night, whether it is real, or whether it is the government making the sound of gunfire commonplace while scaring birds away from their habitat.”

Resident, “I live just blocks away, my stomach turns every single time I hear a rocket. This is meant to be traumatic. Not just for the Birds, but for the many residents who feel their loss.”    

16,237.5 acres could be impacted by the actions of a Federal Agency, actions that could adversely affect not only Migratory Birds, but other species as well.

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