AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite efforts to remove the Bone Cave harvestman, a small arachnid found only in Central Texas, from the endangered species list, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined yesterday the spider relative should remain.
“The primary stressor and reason for past loss (of the Bone Cave harvestman), human development, is continuing currently and will continue into the future,” the organization said in its report. “We find that the Bone Cave harvestman should remain listed as an endangered species under the Act, and the petitioned action is not warranted at this time,” the report said.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, joined a lawsuit in 2015 to try to delist the harvestman as an endangered species and prevent the federal government from regulating a species that can only be found in one state. They think the decision yesterday to keep the animal on the list was incorrect.
“For many years now, there’s been solid evidence that the Bone Cave harvestman is not actually endangered. It was listed back in the 1980s… Then they knew of only five harvestman caves. Now they know of over 120 and there’s a permanent preserve that was created by Williamson County,” said Chance Weldon, a Senior Attorney for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The foundation joined a case representing a rancher named John Yearwood, the owner of a ranch in Central Texas that has been with his family for over a century. The harvestman was found on his property, and Yearwood was concerned if the harvestman was accidentally disturbed, he would be charged with a federal crime under the Endangered Species Act, Weldon said.
“It is a significant burden on private property owners anytime that you have an endangered species found on your property,” Weldon said. “(The federal government) doesn’t pay property owners to keep species on their property. Instead, what they basically say, if you eventually accidentally squash one of these critters, you’re talking about significant federal felony penalties. And as a result, people just can’t use their property,” he continued.
The constitutional question of whether the federal government should have the right to enforce federal regulation on a species that does not travel interstate eventually made its way to the Supreme Court in Jan. 2021. At that time, the Court ruled against the side of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, according to reporting from the Austin American Statesman.
“The constitutional question still isn’t answered,” Weldon said.
Weldon said the TPPF has not decided whether they will take up this case again but thinks the discussion is far from over.
“It’s not really a question of whether or not these species are worth protecting. I think it’s a question of who decides and the method that they’ve chosen to protect them.”