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City land to go to Government Canyon

By Colin McDonald, Express-News

Somewhere in the shade of the oaks growing from a dry limestone draw across Highway 211 from Government Canyon, a yellow-billed cuckoo is singing its silly song.

When it flies up from South America next spring, the draw should be part of a state-protected natural area.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has voted to take all steps necessary to transfer more than 3,000 acres from the city of San Antonio to Government Canyon State Natural Area.

"This creates an 11,000-acre park," said Sandy Jenkins, a projects manager for San Antonio Parks and Recreation. "This is such an awesome opportunity."

At its Thursday meeting, the commission also voted to buy 732 acres to add to the Lost Maples State Natural Area.

Both expansions will result in more trails and recreational opportunities for park visitors, although the state does not yet have a timeline to start building. Most of the property for Lost Maples will be purchased this summer for $2,500 an acre with additional acreage being purchased and donated this fall.

For the Government Canyon expansion the state is waiting for the City Council's vote in August.

There are three major benefits for the city, said Jenkins, who started working on the land transfer in February.

The first is that the state can give the public access to the hilly terrain with its small caves and low forests of juniper, oaks, laurel and elm because the rangers, parking, visitor center and trained crews of volunteers to build the trails are already in place. Under the city's ownership the land sits behind locked gates.

The state also has more resources for keeping out invasive species and monitoring which will ensure better protection of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, which is why the city purchased the parcels in the first place with Proposition 3 money.

Lastly, the land transfer allowed for a baseline survey of the plants and animals living on the land. That job was something the city had wanted done for years, but did not have the resources for.

"It was very easy to say 'that's a three-year project,'" said TPWD biologist Richard Heilbrun, who helped organize the survey.

Instead, this spring volunteers and biologists from the city, state and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked in teams of six for a month. They surveyed 600 points and documented habitat for the endangered golden cheek warbler. Crawling through the thick brush they even worked weekends to get the job done during the nesting season, Heilbrun said.

When the data is compiled this summer the city will qualify for federal conservation credits for protecting warbler habitat. Those credits will help with maintaining Camp Bullis, which needs to identify "off-site conservation," according to the state because part of the military training there takes place in warbler habitat.

The land transfer is likely to be the last opportunity to expand Government Canyon as the sprawl along Loop 1604 continues. But for the cuckoo, it means it can keep on singing.

Online: www.mysanantonio.com/news/City_land_to_be_part_of_Government_Canyon.html
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