The principals of Natural Resources Solutions, LC (NRS) began working together in 2003 at Fort Hood, Texas. Fort Hood is one of the largest military reservations in the U.S. and a heavy armor training installation for the U.S. Army. Fort Hood is home to the Golden-cheeked Warbler (GCW) and the Black-capped Vireo (BCV). These two songbirds are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as endangered and threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
A large portion of the 217,000-acre military reservation had been set aside by USFWS as habitat for the listed songbirds, and was therefore rendered unavailable to the Army for training purposes. These restrictions resulted in a serious curtailment of training for troops preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2003, the Commanding General of Fort Hood called for an “Environmental Summit.” Federal and state agencies, neighboring landowners, academia and others answered the call, meeting in an effort to devise a methodology to restore the restricted lands for training use.
The Summit resulted in a working group led by the Texas Department of Agriculture. The initial product of the working group was a revised Biological Opinion requiring Fort Hood to collaborate with governmental agencies and others to identify off-site opportunities for GCW and BCV habitat conservation and preservation with an emphasis on recovery of the listed songbirds.
A framework for a wholly new innovative program – the Recovery Credit System (RCS) – was created. This groundbreaking program recognized the existence of GCW and BCV habitats on private lands near Fort Hood and devised a working method of using incentives to encourage private landowners to conserve and protect their bird habitat. Fort Hood would then be credited for that protection, thereby off-setting the restricted lands on post, while continuing to meet ESA requirements. Participants in the RCS pilot project included the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense, the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas A&M University, Environmental Defense Fund, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Texas Watershed Management Foundation and others.
Private landowners provided the key to the success of the project through their willingness to enter into term contracts to protect habitat on their property in exchange for federal funding which allowed them to engage in conservation efforts and management practices, such as invasive brush clearing and controlled fire. Texas A&M University and the Environmental Defense Fund provided the biological expertise in identifying suitable private lands with songbird habitat for protection and conservation. The private lands enrolled in the RCS were used as a credit to offset habitat on Fort Hood and a restoration of Army lands for training purposes.
The RCS credit trading policy was officially recognized by USFWS in 2007 when the Bush administration unveiled RCS and recovery crediting. Final Guidance was published in the Federal Register in 2008. The principals of NRS played pivotal roles throughout the process. Our team is the only environmental firm in the U.S. today with the background, experience, and qualifications to implement RCS and its many beneficial variations.
While RCS remains a cornerstone of our firm, our success in environmental consulting can be attributed to our diverse expertise. Our knowledge base extends to broader areas of resource management. NRS has been involved in various projects in multiple states that incorporate an array of conservation policies and tools. For instance, our firm assisted in the development of Camp Lejeune’s Market-based Conservation Program well as North Carolina’s statewide initiative titled the Partnership for Sentinel Landscapes. Our firm also contributed to the formation of the Texas Conservation Plan for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard occurring in the Permian Basin of West Texas.