Texas Rising - Winter 2012

Winter 2012


Protecting economy,
environment requires
careful approach to
regulation by Mark Wangrin

Photo by Chase Fountain, TPWD

Expanding population and economic growth inevitably cause open space to be replaced by development. Unwarranted regulation can hurt economic growth with little or no benefit to the environment it seeks to protect.

When species and development collide

Enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) mandates conservation of threatened and endangered plants, animals and their habitats through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. Violators can face civil penalties of up to a $25,000 fine and criminal penalties of up to a $200,000 fine and a year in prison.

At times, habitats overlap with land sought for development. In 2009, the Texas Legislature directed the Comptroller’s office to lead the Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species to help local officials understand the regulatory programs of the ESA as they affect economic development. The task force is charged with providing policy and technical assistance to local and regional governments and to help them develop conservation plans if requested.

More than 100 species are currently being considered for new or modified status throughout Texas, actions that many state officials, industries and residents believe aren’t all necessarily supportable by solid, detailed science.

“From the state perspective, we are working to develop additional conservation programs and approaches to provide accurate and complete data so decisions regarding these species can be made on sound and reliable science,” says Cary Dupuy, the Comptroller’s natural resources policy advisor. “Ultimately, we are trying to provide Texans the tools to conserve these species without the need for additional federal regulations.”

Local officials, economic developers should stay informed

City planners, county engineers, water districts and other agencies on the front line of local development could find themselves working on projects that are subject to federal regulation — with limited resources and little or no authority to intervene.

KeepingTexasFirst.org is our venue to share resources and communication, because the first thing any landowner or community needs to do is learn about the listing process, what they might have to deal with in their community,” says Cary Dupuy, the Comptroller’s natural resources policy advisor. “Once they’re aware of that, the next question is about what resources are out there to help you in terms of technical assistance or financial assistance or other resources.”
— Cary Dupuy, Comptroller’s natural resources policy advisor

Dupuy recommends that planners and economic developers become informed about currently and potentially listed species in their area and obtain as much data as possible on the location of and actual threats to the species, and partner with multiple entities to develop any needed conservation programs.

A map showing the latest listings for each county is updated regularly on the Comptroller’s Keeping Texas First website, the most comprehensive state source for federal environmental regulatory news.

Conservation plan for all

“Creating and seeking approval for conservation plans that can be used by many business and government entities can save time and money,” Dupuy says. “It gives certainty to people looking to develop. We can make it easier for people to comply with the law.”

Near the top of the to-do list is the case of the dunes sagebrush lizard (DSL), which has been proposed for endangered status and whose habitat overlaps with some of the state’s richest oil-producing land. During the 2011 special session, the Legislature gave the Comptroller’s office the power to coordinate the development of voluntary endangered species conservation plans and to hold money outside the Treasury to fund those plans.

The aim of the DSL conservation plan is to find a proactive way to allow the oil and natural gas industry and the lizards to co-exist with the least environmental and economic costs.

“We worked through a stakeholder process to develop a plan, and will hold the permit that goes with it,” Dupuy says. “This lizard happens to be in the middle of largest oil-producing area in the United States. A lot of people depend on that industry for a living.”

It’s not that simple

Applying the ESA is not always straightforward. For instance, regulations that govern land use in a migratory species habitat may vary depending on whether the species is present or not.

Or, if a parcel of land is in an aquifer recharge zone or feeds a river that an endangered species relies upon, restrictions can be imposed miles from the animal’s habitat.

Upstream water diversion is the subject of an ESA case heard in federal court in Corpus Christi in December 2011 brought by The Aransas Project, a nonprofit consortium of local governments, environmental groups, businesses and individuals. The suit contends that the endangered whooping crane population was harmed by limited freshwater flow from the Guadalupe River to its Texas coastal habitat during the 2008-2009 drought, which is claimed to have limited the bird’s natural food sources.

If the federal court’s ruling (expected in summer 2012) favors the plaintiffs, it could have statewide implications; Texas state government could be required to change its process for allocating its freshwater resources, potentially impacting landowners, communities and businesses that depend on water from the state’s rivers and lakes.

Accurate data is vital

Dupuy says one challenge is obtaining accurate data to make sound decisions on when to regulate. Often, species populations are underreported or misreported due to limited available survey information.

“Decisions that could impact management of land and business operations should be made on sufficient science to show the species is in need of additional conservation efforts,” Dupuy says. “Having data on the location of species and how they are affected by threats can help develop conservation plans to more quickly recover species
populations.” TR

Learn more about the potential effects of federal environmental regulation on Texas at KeepingTexasFirst.org.

map showing number of species by county - description below

Species found in every Texas county

As of January 2012, every Texas county contains between one and 26 species that may be affected by new actions under the Endangered Species Act. This map was created by the Comptroller’s office to provide a broad, county-level overview of the potential range of species currently under review for possible listing; species under review for changes to listing status or critical habitat designation; species that have been reviewed and determined not to be warranted for listing or for which no further action is expected at this time; and species that have been removed from the list at this time.

You can also view the most up-to-date species map and a listing of species in each county.