George P. Bush calls for de-listing of endangered Texas songbird

A key state policy-maker announced his support Tuesday for a de-listing of an endangered Texas songbird.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush rallied behind an effort by former state comptroller Susan Combs to de-list the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

The warbler, a small bird with distinctive yellow-and-black markings that was first listed as endangered in 1990, nests in fewer than three dozen counties in Central Texas — and nowhere else in the world. In spring, the birds arrive to raise their young before beginning a late summer migration to Mexico and Central America.

A golden-cheeked warbler perches in a madrone tree on the Los Madrones ranch in western Travis County, TX. CREDIT: Michael A. Murphy.
A golden-cheeked warbler perches in a madrone tree on the Los Madrones ranch in western Travis County, TX. CREDIT: Michael A. Murphy.

Combs led a trio of groups in petitioning the Fish and Wildlife Service last week to de-list the bird, arguing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s style of estimating species health is outmoded and that more recent data shows the habitat and population of the bird is robust.

But a Fish and Wildlife review of the warbler completed in August, citing other research, recommended against any change in the bird’s listing, which affords it special habitat protections.

“We now know the golden-cheeked warbler should never have been listed in the first place based on actual science,” Bush said in a news release that also announced the support of private property and business groups. He continued: “Its listing devastated private property owners across Central Texas and even limited military training at Fort Hood. With so much at stake, the federal government needs to get this right and de-list the Warbler.”

Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush delivering an address. Texas General Land Office/YouTube
Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush delivering an address. Texas General Land Office/YouTube

A Fort Hood official told the Statesman last week that military training hadn’t been hindered by accommodations for the endangered bird.

Asked for examples of private property owners who were “devastated” by the listing of the bird, Bush’s spokesman said he was referring to ways it could affect the value of private property and the mitigation fees that developers in some counties are required to pay.

Current state comptroller Glenn Hegar offered more muted approval for the Combs-headed effort.

“I support any effort to ensure that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviews species that have been listed to determine whether best available science continues to support that listing,” Hegar said.

As part of a compromise plan to allow development in parts of warbler-rich western Travis County, the city of Austin and Travis County agreed to piece together and manage a preserve of roughly 30,000 acres. (The Lower Colorado River Authority also plays a small role.) The preserve land, which also benefits other endangered species, is paid for, in part, with development fees.

Author: Asher Price

Asher Price has covered energy and the environment for the American-Statesman since 2006. Twice the Society of Environmental Journalists has named him a finalist for its beat reporter of the year award. He spent part of the spring of 2011 as an environmental science journalism fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and during the 2011-12 academic year was stationed at Columbia’s business and journalism schools as a Knight-Bagehot fellow. He is the co-author of the book The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil and Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power. (UT Press.) His new book, Year of the Dunk, comes out in May 2015. He lives in the South Congress neighborhood with his wife and dog.

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