Babbitt Scurries to Save Habitat Plan for Austin

THE Interior Department is making a last effort to salvage an ecosystem-management plan in Texas at a time when the property-rights movement is gaining momentum and the Republican majority in the next Congress is likely to attack the Endangered Species Act.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt could unveil as early as this month a proposal to protect endangered birds, bugs, amphibians, and plants in Travis County, which surrounds Austin.

Local landowners and environmental advocates have not seen the proposal, which Interior has been quietly developing for six months. But it reportedly will aim to salvage the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, a seven-year-old effort to set aside 29,000 acres in fast-growing Travis County to protect endangered species while opening other land to development. The canyonland plan was set back a year ago when Travis County voters refused to authorize $49 million in bonds for land acquisition.

Interior's proposal is regarded as the last chance for the plan. Austin's conservation director says that local officials have run out of energy, solutions, and resources on the issue. Meanwhile, Austin is groping for a solution to a recent court decision that invalidates a landmark acquifer-protection ordinance that voters overwhelmingly approved two years ago.

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