Author Archives: Jordan Cooley

Wetland Permitting

Wetland Regulation and the Section 404 Permit The Clean Water Act The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the primary mechanism used by the Federal Government to govern water pollution. In 1972, a set of amendments significantly reorganized and expanded the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (originally passed in 1948). At this time, the Act became commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act. It was significantly expanded in 1977 with the Clean Water Act of 1977 amendments. The goal of the CWA is to “restore and maintain the… Read More →

What are Waters of the US?

Current Definition of Waters of the US Since the passing of the Clean Water Act, the definition of the term “waters of the US” has been amended several times. The current definition of “waters of the US” is: Wetlands adjacent to waters (other than waters that are themselves wetlands) identified in paragraphs (a) through (f) of this definition. The territorial sea; and Tributaries of waters identified in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this definition; All impoundments of waters otherwise defined as waters of the United States under this… Read More →

Ephemeral Streams and Headwaters

Types of Seasonal Streams Almost 60% of streams in the US only flow seasonally or after storm events1. These are called intermittent streams and ephemeral streams, and are very important to the health of the downstream waters. They serve many of the same ecological roles as larger downstream sections. Wetlands are often associated with these stream systems. Intermittent streams are those where groundwater provides stream flow for part of the year. Runoff from rainfall supplements the stream flow, but intermittent streams may dry up part of the year…. Read More →

Prairies, Forests, and Uplands

Beyond the low lying bottomlands of the rivers and streams are the prairies, forests, and cultivated uplands of the upper Texas Gulf Coast. Prairies The Texas coastal plain was created over millions of years as meandering rivers shifted about the landscape depositing sediment and leaving many relic channels in their wake. This relatively flat clay plain is composed of rich poorly drained soils and is heavily vegetated. The clay plain causes much of the rainfall in the area to flow across the surface of the land and into… Read More →

Wetlands and Permitting

Wetlands of the Upper Texas Coast The upper Texas Coast is home to some of the most abundant and diverse wetlands in the world. Along the coast, tidal wetlands and interior barrier island wetlands protect our shorelines from erosion and are critical habitat to waterfowl and migrating birds. Along the major rivers, forested bottomland wetlands and swamps provide recreational and economic opportunities to area residents and landowners. Interior wetlands such as marshes, prairie potholes, and coastal flatwoods provide important habitat, food, and water to local wildlife, especially during… Read More →

Rivers and Streams of the Upper Texas Coast

Wetlands are found in the transition zone between land and water. Rivers and streams play an important role in many wetlands systems: many wetlands are replenished by periodic flooding of rivers and streams. Wetlands serve the rivers and streams by filtering pollutants from water, slowing the runoff of water during rain events, and preventing erosion. The well-being of Texas rivers and streams is linked to the protection of wetlands. Many rivers and streams are considered waters of the US by the Clean Water Act. Often, wetlands adjacent to… Read More →

Do I need a Wetland Permit?

Does My Property Have a Wetland? In general, wetlands are found where water naturally flows and accumulates: floodplains, stream headwaters, low lying spots, landscape depressions, and the fringe of ponds, streams, rivers, and coastlines. Even where wetlands are known, determining where the boundaries lie can be complex. Some wetlands exist due to saturation of the soil by groundwater and are difficult to identify. Others are dry part of the year so the extent of the visible wetland boundary can vary during high and low water volumes. The following… Read More →

Wetland Ecological Services

What are Wetland Ecological Services? Goods and services contributing to human well-being by an ecosystem are called ecosystem services. Wetland ecosystem services are those direct and indirect goods and services that wetlands provide just by existing within a dynamic community. Recently, efforts have been made to assign a dollar value to the ecological services provided to society by wetlands. What is the Value of a Wetland? One of the economically valuable roles wetlands play is pollutant filtration. As an example, a bottomland hardwood swamp in South Carolina was… Read More →

Texas Mitigation Banking

Mitigation Banks in Texas There are two types of mitigation banks in Texas: wetland and stream mitigation banks regulated by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and species conservation banks regulated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Both types of banks are permanently protected and exist to replace natural resource values that are lost at an offsite location to development activity. The values of the natural resources replaced at a bank are quantified as a “credit”, which can be sold to developers to offset natural… Read More →

Development in Wetlands

Permit Planning The Galveston District covers 48 counties and 2 parishes in Texas and Louisiana.  The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) makes the official determination whether a property has a wetland, known as a jurisdictional determination.  If USACE determines there are jurisdictional waters on your property, you will likely need either a nationwide permit, a regional general permit, a letter of permission, or a standard permit in order to develop in or place discharges into those waters of the US. Many permittees utilize the services of an… Read More →

Wetland Types on the Upper Texas Coast

The following is a short summary of the major types of upper Texas Coastal Wetlands: Estuarine or Tidal Fringe Wetlands: vegetated marshes and unvegetated mud and sand flats found in open saltwater of bays and the Gulf, along the bay side of barrier islands, and a few miles inland along major river systems that drain into the Gulf. Home to wading birds, shorebirds, water fowl, American alligator, fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, muskrats, nutria, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mink and river otters. The wetlands are threatened by land… Read More →

Texas Coastal Exchange

SSPEED Center and Rice University About the Proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area In 2008, Hurricane Ike demonstrated how valuable undeveloped coastal land is for mitigating storm surge damage. Conservation of these open lands is one strategy to mitigation for future storm damage along the upper Texas coast. The Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center at Rice University, with funding from the Houston Endowment, has proposed a means to ensure this conservation in the form or the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area (LSCNRA)…. Read More →

RESTORE the Texas Coast and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees (NRDA), RESTORE Act Trustees, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) The Deepwater Horizon Accident, which occurred April 20, 2010, spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a 3 month period. The responsible parties for the spill are required to restore natural resources lost or damaged by the accident. Civil fines and criminal penalties paid by the responsible parties are being used by the Gulf of Mexico states for oil spill cleanup… Read More →

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)

Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and RCPP Collaborative Partners About the RCPP Program The RCPP program was created in the 2014 Farm Bill. It gives landowners incentive to enroll agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland in conservation easements and conservation contracts through partnership between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and local entities which create projects for private landowner conservation. Those entities may be agricultural or silvicultural associations, farmer cooperatives, state and local government, water districts, conservation driven organizations, and educational institutions. Landowners must work with a local… Read More →

Water Quality Management Plan Program

Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) Why Develop a Water Quality Management Plan? The Water Quality Management Plan Program (WQMP) is a voluntary program for agricultural and silvicultural producers. The goal is to identify and manage nonpoint source water pollution, which may include animal waste, soil erosion, and pesticide runoff. A WQMP includes site-specific, appropriate land practices, production practices, management measures, and technologies implemented to meet state standards for pollution prevention or abatement. The WQMP will be based on Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Field Office… Read More →

Property Tax Valuation for Wildlife Management

State of Texas and Local Central Appraisal Districts Wildlife Management Valuation of Your Property Under Texas Tax Code 1-d-1 (Sec. 23.51), property can continued to be appraised as open space land for tax purposes while being maintained for wildlife management use.   Wildlife Management Valuation of a property allows a landowner to maintain and care for the land and wildlife with an ag-type exemption, without all the requirements of an agricultural tax exemption. This 1-d-1  open space exemption can be maintained without the livestock fencing, vetting, and reporting… Read More →

Water Resources Program

Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) The Water Resources Program The Water Resources Program, administered by Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS), promotes the value of wetlands and supports their protection during forest operations through recommended best management practices (BMPs). The Water Resources Program at TFS provides technical assistance to landowners by working with forest operations to identify BMPs that could be implemented into their forest operation.  In addition, the Water Resources Program offers a free publication of the Texas Forestry Best Management Practices Handbook on their website as well… Read More →

Private Lands Assistance via Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD)

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department TPWD provides technical assistance, free of charge to land managers who wish to incorporate  wildlife management practices into present and future land use decisions. Upon request, a TPWD wildlife biologist will meet with the landowner to perform an ecological assessment of the property and discuss the landowner’s management goals. The wildlife biologist will: provide the landowner with tailored recommendations in the form of a written management plan and demonstrate proper record keeping for wildlife management progress detail and demonstrate wildlife population survey techniques… Read More →

Tax Deduction via Donation of Land

IRS Real Estate Donation A landowner may be interested in gifting a property to a charity or land trust.  When a charity or land trusts accepts a real estate donation, the landowner can deduct the fair market value of the land from his or her federal taxes. Depending on how long the landowner has held the property, deduction is capped at 30% (held for a year or more) or 50% (held for less than a year) of the adjusted gross income. Excess contributions can be carried forward for… Read More →

Tax Deduction via Donation of Conservation Easement

IRS What is a Conservation Easement? A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a property owner and a qualified entity (public agency or private conservation organization/non-profit), which will restrict the future land uses of a property to protect its natural and ecological qualities.  Conservation easements can permanently protect land from development while the landowner continues to own the land. Conservation easements are designed with the unique characteristics of the land and land use goals of the landowner in mind. Conservation easements can protect land while still… Read More →

Tax Deduction via Bargain Sale

IRS A bargain sale is the sale of land or other assets to a charity, land trust, or other non-profit for less than fair market value.  In general, the fair market value, less the sale price, can be deducted from your taxes as a charitable donation as long as the property has been held for at least one year by the landowner. In a single year, this deduction is limited to 30% of the donor’s adjusted gross income, but can be carried forward over five years. This can… Read More →

SWCD Technical Assistance

Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) and Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) are a resource for agricultural landowners to assess conservation issues on their land and develop solutions to these issues. The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) is the lead administrative organization for SWCDs. Each of the 216 SWCDs in Texas is governed by directors elected by local district landowners. TSSWCB funds program specialists which meet with districts monthly and advise SWCDs on conservation practices… Read More →

Safe Harbor Agreements (SHA)

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Texas is home to many endangered federally listed species which are legally protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Over one-third of the 564 plant and animal species listed as threatened or endangered in the United States use wetland habitats, according to the Texas General Land Office.  Many of these species rely on habitat found on privately owned land. A Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) are a tool for private landowner whom would like to aid in the recovery of a listed or… Read More →

Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) About the Partners Program The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program’s (Partners Program) mission is to achieve voluntary habitat restoration on private lands for the benefit of Federal Trust Species.  A Partners Program partnership is a voluntary agreement between a private landowner (any non-State or non-Federally owned land) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its partners for financial and technical assistance toward achievement of an agreed upon restoration project. A cooperative agreement with a minimum 10 year term is… Read More →

Texas Coastal Program

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) The Coastal Program assists with funding for coastal habitat projects. The Coastal Program partners with Federal programs, State agencies, Tribal and local governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, industry, land trusts, and private landowners who wish to fulfill habitat conservation goals on their land.  The Coastal Program is a reimbursement program. The landowner is not reimbursed for the cost-share portion of the project cost until after the project is completed. Cooperative partnerships are emphasized by the Coastal Program.  Coastal Program partners, known as cooperators,… Read More →

North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) Grants

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) mission is to preserve and enhance wetlands associated with migratory birds and other wildlife. NAWCA, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Division of Bird Habitat Conservation, provides cost-share grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to implement wetland conservation projects in the US, Canada, and Mexico.  Seventy NAWCA projects in Texas have conserved almost 190,000 acres of wildlife habitat! NAWCA grants are competitive and require at least a 1 to… Read More →

Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) Grants

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) About the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Grants The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act’s (NMBCA) mission is to foster long-term conservation of neotropical migratory birds and their habitat in North America and the Caribbean.  The upper Texas coast is a critical stopover point for migratory birds traveling along the Central and Mississippi Flyways, and is even used by birds traveling the Pacific and Atlantic Flyways.  NMBCA, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Division of Bird Habitat Conservation, provides cost-share… Read More →

National Fish Passage Program

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Dams in Texas According to the US Army Corps of Engineer’s National Inventory of Dams, Texas has over 7,000 dams, more than any other state. Most dams in Texas are privately owned, low-hazard earthen dams built between 1950 and 1989. The amount of damming along Texas waterways has led to freshwater stream habitat fragmentation. Aquatic species which migrate along the streams for spawning and other life cycle events are impeded by the obstructions. Today, many of the dams are obsolete and only… Read More →

Mitigation Bank Credit: Landowners/Developers and Aggregators

Various Private and Nonprofit Entities Creating a Mitigation Bank Basic process for developing your own mitigation bank: Planning Pre-prospectus meeting with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Submission of draft prospectus for review by USACE. If USACE finds the prospectus feasible, it will be sent out on public notice for comment. Review by federal, state, and local agencies and general public Mitigation Bank Review Team assessment Mitigation bank instrument development – legal document for the bank Mitigation bank instrument is sent out for public notice Bank approval… Read More →

Landowner Incentive Program

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) The Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) is a voluntary conservation program administrated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and funded through the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and others. LIP provides financial assistance to landowners who wish to implement conservation practices, particularly for activities benefiting rare or at-risk species and valuable riparian areas and watersheds. LIP is a reimbursement program. Landowners will receive payment upon completion of the… Read More →

Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and Incidental Take Permits

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Incidental Take Federally listed and threatened endangered species often rely on critical habitat found on private land. The population and habitat needs of one of these species may be juxtaposed with economic development and other legal activities on a landowner’s property. In these situations, “incidental take” of a protected species can occur.  Incidental take without an approved permit from USFWS is subject to penalty under the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act provides a mechanism by which landowners can minimize and… Read More →

Guaranteed Conservation Loans

USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) FSA Loans There are four main types of FSA loans: farm ownership, farm operating loans and microloans, emergency farm loans, and guaranteed farm loans (including conservation loans). While a borrower may qualify for one or any combination of these loans, the focus here will be on guaranteed farm ownership conservation loans. Guaranteed Loans The Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers a guaranteed loan program which assists farmers and other agricultural operators who would not normally qualify for standard commercial loans. This program is especially… Read More →

Forest Taxation Program

Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) Texas A&M Forest Taxation Program was developed to assist forestland owners in navigating taxes associated with operation and stewardship of a healthy forest. In silviculture, property taxes, cost-share assistance, capital gains taxes, and land and conservation easement donations are complex legal arrangements that may have taxation implementations; and timberland operation and ownership is not always well understood by tax professionals. The Forest Taxation Program website contains guides to the Timberland Property Tax in Texas, information on tax incentives associated with timberland, tax valuation… Read More →

Forest Stewardship Program (FSP)

Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) About the Forest Stewardship Program The Forest Stewardship Program, administered by Texas A&M Forest Service and their partner, USDA Forest Service, provides technical assistance to landowners who wish to sustainably manage their forested property. There is no cost to the landowner for assistance or forest plan preparation. More than 8,000 FSP plans have been created since FSP began in 1991, enrolling more than 1.4 million acres of Texas forests. Foresters help landowners tailor a management plan to their goals and unique forestland. This… Read More →

Forest Legacy Program (FLP)

Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) About the Forest Legacy Program The Forest Legacy Program (FLP), administered by the Texas A&M Forest Service, the State of Texas, and USDA Forest Service, is a voluntary program which purchases conservation easements on forestland voluntarily offered for purchase by private landowners. Protecting priority forests from conversion to non-forested land use is the program’s goal. Forested wetland conservation is an aspect of this program. Eligible land must be in the Forest Legacy target area. Landowners must have clear title, be willing to permanently… Read More →