The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPWC) approved 45 new additional species to the state’s “threatened” list last week and removed only 13 species.
While the federal threatened and endangered species lists come with land-use restrictions (i.e. stronger regulatory and enforcement powers), the state has a limited scope of enforcement consisting of Class A, B, and C misdemeanors in the case of “intentional take” of a given species — or, deliberately removing the species from its habitat.
Class A misdemeanors may be punished with a $500 to $4,000 fine and/or up-to one year in jail. Class B’s, meanwhile, can levy a $200 to $2,000 fine and/or up-to 180 days in jail. Class C’s are the lowest category of punishment constituting a $25 to $500 fine. Which punishment is levied depends on how many times the accused violator has been convicted previously.
The new additions include thirteen species of freshwater fish; eight aquatic snail species; eight plant species; four species of mussels; four amphibian species; three saltwater fish species; three species of birds; and two species of mammals.
All species added to the list must be native to Texas, but they are not required to only be inhabitants of Texas.
The Texan spoke with Meredith Longoria, program leader of the Nongame and Rare Species Program, Wildlife Division at TPWD.
Longoria stated, “The value of adding species to our state threatened list comes from prioritizing our limited resources more effectively to go towards focusing on recovering those species on our state threatened list so we can ultimately stabilize them enough to take them off.”
Essentially, Longoria asserts TPWD adds species to its threatened list so that they are prioritized and can be prevented from having to be placed on the federal lists or the state’s endangered list.
According to Longoria, this strategy is successful as fewer than a handful of species that have first been added to the state list has then been placed on the federal lists.
Nevertheless, these new additions grow the threatened species list from 115 to 147 (accounting for the 13 removals) for an overall 28 percent increase. Usually, the additions in a single year can be counted on one hand or close to it.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has identified these additions as “likely to become endangered in the future.”
There are differences between the federal and state lists. The state’s endangered and threatened plant lists must include those species listed federally, but not all of those listed by the state are necessarily listed federally.
For animals, only the state’s endangered list must include the federally listed endangered species. There is much more room to give on the threatened list.
Before these additions, only eight of the current 108 animals on the threatened list were also listed federally — while all plant species on the threatened list are also on the federal one which is required by law.
Of these 45 proposed additions to the threatened list, only six of the animal species are either currently on the federal version or are proposed to be added to it.
To make these recommendations, according to TPWD, they use “the best available science” to assess the risk level faced by the proposed species with various factors including rarity (population), geographic range extent, and threats present.
This analysis is made using the NatureServe Conservation Status survey-established method and then consulting experts and the public. The governing document of the assessment process is the Texas Conservation Action Plan which is meant to “bring people together to realize conservation benefits, prevent species listings, and preserve our natural heritage for future generations.”
After the assessment, a grade is given to the species in question which represents the determined importance of its addition to one, or both, of the lists. Those grades are:
- Critically Imperiled
- Apparently Secure
If a species is given one of the first two grades, it is considered for addition to the list(s).
In a public comment of opposition to the proposed changes, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s general counsel, Rob Henneke, wrote, “TPPF is concerned that this unsupported attempt to add such a large number and wide array of species all at once…is potentially the first step in a more long-term expansion of TPWD’s regulatory authority that was neither intended nor authorized by the State Legislature.”
No stranger to endangered species regulation, Henneke is representing John Yearwood in his lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior over its use-restriction placed on Yearwood’s property due to a nominally — but questionably labeled — endangered species called the Bone Cave harvestman spider that lives on his land.
Regarding the state’s proposed additions, Henneke is both concerned with the substantial increase in proposed additions compared with past years and the very purpose behind adding species not already on the federal lists.
He went on to say, “The Texas Comptroller already operates programs that achieve many of these same goals without imposing additional regulatory burdens.”
In 2013, the Texas Legislature started appropriating funding to the Comptroller to research and study potentially imperiled species.
Henneke also questioned the reliability of the NatureServe assessment, pointing to a case concerning the “many-flowered unicorn plant” in the New Mexico District Court in which the court, “rejected the group’s reliance on the NatureServe database since it not only failed to address specific threats to the species, but also employed only imprecise descriptors…instead of quantitative metrics when referring to population size or abundance.”
“The goal should be for the state’s lists to function as a legitimate counterweight to overly burdensome federal regulation, not yet another heavy stone added to the regulatory peine forte et dure,” Henneke concluded.
Meanwhile, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA) submitted comment in support of the additions. President of the PBPA, Ben Shepperd, stated, “The PBPA asserts that by maintaining an up-to-date list of state threatened species, the state of Texas is in a better position to avert the need for federal intervention and to keep these species under the state’s jurisdiction.”
Shepperd continued, “[C]lear, consistent, and defensible, action by state agencies offers the best deterrent from federal overreach.”
“The PBPA and TPWD share mutual conservation goals to preclude the need to list these state species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).”
Another organization that submitted a public comment in opposition is the Texas Farm Bureau (TXFB).
Associate director of TXFB’s government affairs division, Jay Bragg, told The Texan they are most concerned with the confusion this move could cause. “We see no reason there has to be a list separate from the federal one — it’s really not necessary,” Bragg stated.
He is also wary the state list could be used as a blueprint for species to place on the federal lists.
Since there are different regulatory structures at the state and federal level, Bragg and TXFB see the discrepancies between the two as a confusing dichotomy and “have long opposed” the existence of a second, state-based list.
“Our organization (TXFB) is in favor of protecting species, unless it’s maybe feral hogs,” Bragg half-joked. “And farmers and ranchers themselves have made a lot of conservation efforts in trying to protect habitats where we can.”
Bragg sees a better option of protecting species in increasing public awareness rather than placing these state lists in code.
The TPWD informed The Texan that 14 public comments were made on the proposed additions — of which nine were online consisting of five in agreement and four in some degree of disagreement.
The Occidental Petroleum Corporation also submitted public comment in agreement with the additions.
The additions will be sent to the Secretary of State’s office and from there, a 20-day waiting period must surpass before they go into effect.
A list of the new species being considered can be found below:
- Tawny-bellied Cotton Rat
- West Indian Manatee
- Black Rail
- Red-crowned Parrot
- Rufa Red Knot
- Salado Springs Salamander
- Georgetown Salamander
- Texas Salamander
- Jollyville Plateau Salamander
- Oceanic Whitetip
- Great Hammerhead
- Shortfin Mako
- Tamaulipas Shiner
- Rio Grande Shiner
- Headwater Catfish
- Speckled Chub
- Prairie Chub
- Arkansas River Speckled Chub
- Chub Shiner
- Red River Pupfish
- Plateau Shiner
- Roundnose Minnow
- Medina Roundnose Minnow
- Nueces Roundnose Minnow
- Guadalupe Darter
- Carolinae Tryonia
- Caroline’s Springs Pyrg
- Clear Creek Amphipod
- Crowned Cavesnail
- Limpia Creek Spring Snail
- Metcalf’s Tryonia
- Presidio County Spring Snail
- Texas Troglobitic Water Slater
- Trinity Pigtoe
- Guadalupe Orb
- Guadalupe Fatmucket
- Brazos Heelsplitter
- Leoncita false-foxglove
- dune umbrella-sedge
- small-headed pipewort
- rock quillwort
- gypsum scalebroom
- Livermore sweet-cicely
- Houston daisy
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.