by Susan Combs
In 2013, as Texas Comptroller, I was able to secure $5 million in funds from the Texas legislature for high-level, objective research in the endangered species area. I truly believe the economic impact of an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing is sufficiently large and that it is in everyone’s best interest to fund sound science.
To that end, the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard effort was able to document, through research from twenty-one biologists who scoured a multi-county area, that the lizard was far more prevalent than previously thought. Because of this, the Texas legislature approved the funding of university-generated science. This research can be found at www.keepingtexasfirst.org, which shows the particular species, the entities doing the work, and the economic impact of a potential listing. The work covers a myriad of species: aquatic plant and animal, bird, reptile, insect, etc. The efforts in this area are to ensure conflicts of interest are eliminated, reviewers are careful, and the scientific data and end results are credible.
One of the early partners in high-level endangered species research has been Fort Hood, a major United States Army installation. The combined task of protecting species as well as performing the national defense objectives has proven to be one that the Army has taken on very willingly. The current commanding general of Fort Hood, General MacFarland, has the oversight of very significant and important national work in the area, especially with regard to the Golden Cheeked Warbler and the Black Capped Vireo. I met with him over a month ago and discussed the potential for a renewal of the science fund. He was very optimistic and encouraged, and I am glad that he was right.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Texas legislature, again, approved the research funds, and Texas is once again a leader in the area of endangered species research.
Why is this so important? Virtually everyone I talk to about the ESA feels there is a difficult balance – how to ensure that species truly at risk get the protection they need while also ensuring that decisions that can have an extraordinary economic impact are arrived at through reasoned, thoughtful, and objective science.
The “best available science” standard is unfortunately not a very high one in some instances. If there is almost no science, that meets the test – which is why Texas stepped up to the plate to advocate for a higher standard. I am also encouraged by some of the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work in the area of science as petitions to list are written.
We can and will achieve the balance that we need: preserve and protect the economy and preserve and protect species. Texans are well on their way.