Updated Feb. 11 to include a statement from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
A lawsuit to remove the golden-cheeked warbler from the federal endangered species list was rejected by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on Feb. 6, preserving the bird’s current status. The small black songbird with a yellow head nests exclusively in Central Texas.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, on behalf of the Texas General Land Office, filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on June 5, 2017, claiming that updated scientific data shows the warbler is no longer in danger of extinction and that the government should direct its conservation resources to other species that still need to be protected.
The lawsuit was a response to a petition the foundation filed in 2016 to delist the bird, a request that U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service denied.
“This is a victory for science and our community,” Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea said in a news release. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did a thorough analysis of the available evidence, and it was upheld this week by Judge Sparks. I’m happy to see that protections for this vulnerable Texas songbird and its habitat will continue.”
In a statement by Texas Public Policy Foundation, the foundation said the removal of the golden-cheeked warbler would restore the rights of land owners to effectively manage our own properties, without oversite from the federal bureaucracy.
“In 2017, we filed a lawsuit to delist the golden-cheeked warbler from the endangered species list, as the population is now 19 times greater than estimated when the species was first listed,” the foundation stated. “We have received the decision from the District Court regarding our summary judgement motion. We will continue consulting with our attorneys regarding appealing the case.”
The warbler was listed as an endangered species in 1990 based on habitat loss and destruction to juniper and oak woodlands, where the bird nests.
The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve was established in 1996 as part of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, which called for Austin and Travis County to acquire additional preserve land and manage the preserve for endangered species. The land being preserved works to mitigate the loss of old growth woodlands that have been replaced by development.
Melinda Mallia, Travis County Natural Resources Program manager, told Community Impact Newspaper Feb. 8 that the county had been tracking the lawsuit closely because it did not believe the data provided by the Texas Public Policy Foundation was sound. She said the data used numbers from areas with a dense population of birds and did not account for variations in the bird’s population throughout its habitat.
“The method they were using was overestimating the population significantly,” she said. “We have good data on the population, and there are other entities throughout the bird’s range that also have data.”
Ultimately, Mallia said, the county’s part in protecting the species likely would not have changed regardless of the court’s ruling.
“The lawsuit had no impact on what we were doing because we have to continue carrying out our legal obligation for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan,” she said. “Even if the warbler had been delisted, we still have a plan based on a federal permit. That is an obligation Austin and the county took on.”