Conservation Matters August 2013

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Expert advises landowners on conservation and Endangered Species Act

By Leslie Lee

Expert advises landowners on conservation and Endangered Species Act

To some Texans, the term endangered species may sound like a mundane detail of wildlife management, but the protections for plants and animals listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) can have wide impacts not only on species and ecosystems, but also on communities, properties and industries, according to a Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) expert.   

“Texans need to know what’s on the horizon regarding ESA listings and how the listings could affect them,” said Brian Hays, an IRNR associate director.

Passed by Congress in 1973, the ESA was established to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) administer the ESA. Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, according to FWS.

Texas currently has 65 animal and 28 plant species listed under the ESA, 21 candidate species and 118 recently petitioned species under status review. A candidate species is one that FWS has enough information to propose for listing but is precluded from doing so by higher listing priorities, according to FWS. The ESA allows citizens and groups to petition for species to be added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species — as well as to be removed from the list — and sets specific timelines for responding to those petitions.

Freshwater mussels are one of the groups of animals to watch in Texas, Hays said, and if listed, freshwater mussels could potentially impact many aspects of the Texas economy.

Hays said that a recent analysis by the University Of Texas Bureau Of Economic Geology, Potential Economic Impacts of Environmental Flows for Central Texas Freshwater Mussels, estimated one-year economic costs to Texas commercial, industrial, municipal and agriculture sectors if environmental flows requirements, caused by reductions or reallocations of water following a possible ESA listing, were put in place during a drought. The study found that in a segmented market scenario, in which water could not be transferred between water-user types or from county to county, economic losses would total up to $80 million; and in an integrated scenario, in which water transfers were allowed, losses would total up to $11 million.

Using an ecosystem-based approach, sometimes FWS employs group listings, Hays said. This approach could be applied to mussel listings in Texas. He encouraged landowners and other stakeholders to be engaged in the process of conserving species.

“Market-based conservation is a key concept,” Hays said. “With Texas being 94 percent privately owned, if we are going to recover a listed species or keep a species from being listed in Texas we are going to have to develop programs that private landowners embrace. It is important to have the landowners involved in the process and the goal in my opinion is to develop programs that make what is perceived as a liability an asset.  Market-based or incentive-based programs are one way to do that and provide the financial incentive for putting conservation practices on the ground.”

Hays recommended that stakeholders look into the FWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program as well as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Landowner Incentive Program. Another resource for current information on this subject can be found at texasahead.org/texasfirst, which is managed by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Hays said.

For more information, see the FWS site on the 40th Anniversary of the ESA, and read more about IRNR’s mussel research program.

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