May 17, 2023 - Climate

Bill would ban Austin's Ashe juniper protections

A golden-cheeked warbler on the branch of an Ashe juniper tree. Photo: USFWS/Wikimedia Commons

A panel of state senators heard testimony Tuesday on a measure that would ban local ordinances that protect the Ashe juniper tree.

Why it matters: Environmental activists have sounded the alarm over House Bill 2239, which they say would reduce the habitat of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and have serious consequences for the Central Texas ecosystem.

  • The House approved the measure last week in a 109-35 vote, sending the bill to the Senate.

Zoom in: If the measure passes the Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott signs it, the law would end Austin's ordinance that prohibits property owners from removing Ashe junipers that have a diameter exceeding 14 inches and measure over 4 ½ feet tall.

  • Austin's protections for other native trees, including live oaks, would remain in place.

Between the lines: The measure is one of many bills quickly moving through the Legislature that would strip local regulations.

  • Plus, a sweeping bill headed to the governor's desk Tuesday would impact city ordinances around agriculture, natural resources and beyond.

The big picture: The bill's author, Central Texas Republican Rep. Ellen Troxclair, has said it would allow private property owners to make decisions about their land and could reduce "cedar fever," a thorn in the side of Central Texans who have severe allergies due to pollen from juniper trees.

Yes, but: The trees are important for golden-cheeked warblers, which were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1990 as many tall juniper and oak woodlands were cleared to build houses.

  • The birds nest in the area's Ashe juniper trees, eating insects and spiders found on their bark and using strips of cedar bark and spiderwebs to build their nests, per Texas Parks and Wildlife.
  • The Austin tree protections are especially critical since the birds also nest outside the city, where ranchers have long removed the trees.

What they're saying: "We know that where birds thrive, people thrive — and allowing the unrestricted removal of Ashe junipers could have a damaging ripple effect on our greater ecosystem," Audubon Texas executive director Lisa Gonzalez said in a statement.

What's next: The Senate's Committee on Local Government left the measure pending.

  • If the committee approves the bill, it would head to the full Senate for a vote. The legislative session ends on May 29.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say state senators heard testimony on Tuesday (not Wednesday).


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Austin stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more