Scientific Evidence Indicates Ample Populations of “Endangered” Golden-Cheeked Warbler
On Monday, three groups filed an official petition requesting that the golden-cheeked warbler, a migratory songbird that nests only in Texas, be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species, citing verified scientific evidence of ample populations and habitat. Counsel for Texans for Positive Economic Policy (led by former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs), the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Reason Foundation hand-delivered the petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) offices in Washington, DC.
“We have long said that sound science is the best protection for both species and the economy, as we showed in the permit issuance for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard,” said Combs. “In the case of the warbler, the emergency listing was based on woefully inadequate science. In the twenty-five years since, repeated studies have demonstrated that listing the songbird as endangered was not warranted. We trust that FWS will welcome this information.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the golden-cheeked warbler under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 on an emergency basis, erroneously believing that the species was in danger of extinction and that its best breeding habitat was primarily limited to Travis County, Texas. This conclusion was based on ten-year-old satellite mapping and an inaccurate study of warbler density conducted 14 years prior.
Since then, new, thorough, and accurate data indicates the warbler’s habitat and population are much greater than the FWS believed in 1990. Unfortunately, during its erroneous tenure as an endangered species, the warbler has been used to restrict landowners’ use of their property and jeopardized military training.
“Continued listing of the golden-cheeked warbler for protection under the Endangered Species Act is no longer necessary,” said Robert Henneke, Director of the Center for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Hard science and objective research prove the warbler population to be nineteen times greater than estimated when first listed in 1990. The Texas Public Policy Foundation supports state and local conservation efforts as being of greater benefit to the warbler and that continued ESA regulation can impede voluntary and local conservation efforts. Due to no current threat of endangerment, federal law and respect for private property rights demand that the Fish and Wildlife Service grant the coalition’s Petition to delist the golden-cheeked warbler.”
Recent studies, including one by Texas A&M University, show that the amount of warbler habitat is five times larger and that the warbler population is roughly 19 times greater than the earlier FWS estimate. As a result, the three parties are advocating for a classification change.
“The erroneous listing of the golden-cheeked warbler under the Endangered Species Act has diverted limited resources from species that are truly endangered, inflicted unnecessary costs on landowners, and likely harmed the warbler by encouraging landowners to destroy habitat and avoid the Act’s penalties,” states Brian Seasholes, Director of the Endangered Species Project at Reason Foundation. “This petition shows conclusively that the golden-cheeked warbler does not merit the Endangered Species Act’s protection.”
In the years since the classification was issued and a recovery plan published, the FWS has admitted that the science behind its decision is outmoded. This newer, more accurate data clearly indicates that the species does not meet the Endangered Species Act’s definition of “endangered” or “threatened,” nor is it “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” as the law requires. Unfortunately, the FWS has made no move to change the warbler’s status to reflect this reality, which is why this petition is necessary.
“Stewardship of the land, its flora and fauna, is an essential Texas value that deserves sensible protection,” concluded Combs, a well-known advocate for effective species management. “As an agency that places such a strong emphasis on effective science, we trust the Fish & Wildlife Service will acknowledge the data, correct the record, and change the classification.”
Submission of the petition marked the beginning of a 90-day period, which must conclude with a response and ruling by the FWS. The three petitioners pledged to keep Texans informed on FWS progress on the matter.