Released by the Office of State Comptroller Susan Combs
(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced today plans to support high quality research by state-funded universities on three species, which cover nearly three-fourths of the state and could potentially be listed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as endangered or threatened.
The Texas Legislature, understanding the potential economic impacts of species listings, appropriated $5 million to her agency for the research, which will be conducted on species that are designated as priorities primarily based on gaps in data, urgency in listing and potential economic impacts to our state in the near future.
The Comptroller’s office established a science working group comprised of state universities to help prioritize species for research. The first species selected for research are freshwater mussels (12 mussels total); the spot-tailed earless lizard; and the desert massasauga (a snake). The ranges of these species potentially cover 190 of the 254 Texas counties — a coverage area of about 75 percent — and the economies in these counties contribute about $1.3 trillion of our state’s gross domestic product.
There will be a competitive process using Request for Proposals through the Texas Register, which will be issued to all Texas public universities to solicit research proposals for the species.
Species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could restrict the use of land and water, impact local and regional economies, decrease property values and add regulatory hurdles and costs to otherwise lawful activities.
“I worked hard to get the funding since gathering accurate scientific data and providing it to the federal listing agencies is one of the best ways to deal with the increasing number of species under review in Texas that can greatly impact our economy,” Combs said. “This process further ensures the best science is available when the federal government is determining if a species should be listed and raises the standard for data used in listing decisions.”
Today, more than 120 species in Texas are subject to review under the ESA, which requires listing decisions be based on the “best scientific and commercial data available.” However, FWS does not define this term, sometimes allowing many species to be listed with limited science.
“Mandating a high standard for species research that emphasizes recent, independent and credible empirical data will improve the research and scientific information used in listing decisions,” Combs said. “This will help ensure the best science is available when determining if a species should be listed, thereby bringing more scientific rigor to the process.”
As Comptroller of Public Accounts, Combs serves as the presiding officer of the statewide Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species and has statutory authority to facilitate the development of and hold federal permits associated with conservation plans. The agency holds a federal permit for the Texas Conservation Plan for the dunes sagebrush lizard, which was not listed by FWS in 2012 because of conservation efforts by the state and because of additional research conducted on the species after it was proposed for listing.
The Comptroller’s office will continue to work with the science working group to identify additional species for research. The science working group includes state research leaders, FWS, and other state and federal governmental agencies.
For more information detailing the members of the science working group, the potential economic impact of these species and which counties are affected, visit www.KeepingTexasFirst.org.