Fort Hood and the Recovery Credit System
Although NRS was not organized as a company until 2008, the founding members of the firm had previously been deeply involved in the development of the Recovery Credit System at the Fort Hood Military Reservation in Texas. Along with then Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Susan Combs, military leaders at Fort Hood, Texas A&M University, area landowners and others, we assisted in the development of an entirely new and successful, market-based conservation tool recognized by an increasing number of conservation experts and landowners as recovery crediting. According to the Robertson Consulting Group, Inc., the Recovery Credit System (RCS) provides important contributions to both conservation and the military by:
Working towards species recovery
Extending conservation outside the boundaries of the reservation by engaging private landowners surrounding the post in incentive-based conservation
Formalizing a market-based tool for trading credits
Providing an additional method for removing restrictions on training
Fort Hood, located in Central Texas on an oak-juniper mesa approximately halfway between Austin and Waco, serves as the training grounds for the Army’s largest armored force. The base is also home to the largest known population of the Golden-cheeked Warbler (GCW). Listed as federally endangered in 1990, this neotropical-neartic songbird migrates from Central America to Central Texas to breed. Warbler occupancy has been confirmed in 27 Central Texas counties, with the bulk of GCW habitat occurring on private lands.
Like many military installations, Fort Hood faces encroachments stemming from changes in land-use outside of its borders as well as from internal land impacts associated with military training exercises. Both Fort Hood and the songbird have been impacted by urban development. This habitat fragmentation resulted in restrictions on training activities, with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service imposed designation of critical habitat areas on Fort Hood. In the mid-1990s, approximately one-third of Fort Hood’s 217,000 acres was locked down after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered populations of the endangered songbird. In March 2005, the Service issued a biological opinion requiring the Army to engage in off-site conservation efforts. Consequently, the Army began exploring the possibility of an off-site conservation program in which private property owners could voluntarily assist by to managing their land and habitat for the endangered songbirds.
Development of the Recovery Credit System
In 2005, then Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs convened a group of stakeholders who worked to develop the outline of a program capitalizing on incentive-based private land management to offset habitat impacts within the reservation. The product was the Recovery Credit System (RCS). The three-year RCS pilot project officially began in 2006, with the objective of not only offsetting adverse effects to Warbler habitat occurring on Fort Hood, but to achieving a net benefit towards recovery of the species as well. The pilot project identified a target area of six counties surrounding the installation. The approximately 2.5 million acres contained within the project area were all privately owned lands. Private landowners within the area were consulted and indicated an interest in participation in a program that would be financially beneficial to them. The project ultimately resulted in one that provided funding from the Department of Defense and other sources for contracting with landowners for investment in invasive brush clearing and other conservation techniques beneficial to the landowners as well as the songbird. Texas A&M University and the Environmental Defense Fund oversaw the biological aspects of the private land work carried out under term contracts with the participating landowners. In exchange for this conservation work on private lands, the Army was granted credits by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for unavoidable ongoing habitat damage on the reservation. This crediting resulted in the lifting of land use restrictions on a large portion of Fort Hood.
The development of the Recovery Credit System at Fort Hood presents an excellent illustration of the firm’s successful approach to cooperative conservation and innovation.