Fish and Wildlife Service will soon decide fate of Golden-cheeked Warbler

Native bird’s habitat threatened by urban development, Texas lawsuit

The Golden-cheeked warbler’s Texas Hill Country habitat is highly prized for development.
Gwendolyn Reed

Communications Intern

Texas’ beloved Golden-cheeked Warbler is at risk of removal from the endangered species list despite continued threats to its population.

Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reviews each animal on its endangered species list to assess whether it will remain on the list. Its most recent evaluation of the warbler in August 2014 concluded that the bird remains in danger of extinction. The service is currently conducting its next five-year review of the warbler, and is required to consult the most reliable data.

The General Land Office (GLO) filed suit last year against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), seeking the delisting of the golden-cheeked warbler from the list. This is the second time in five years that the GLO and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) have attempted to remove protection from the native bird. 

The lawsuit stems from a study done by Texas A&M University, which majorly overestimated warbler populations and claimed a significant increase in available habitat. Following its release, many biologists have expressed doubts of the study’s accuracy and are wary of making a decision based on that study alone.

“The science shows that, if anything, the threats to the habitat and the survival of the species are growing rather than subsiding,” said Bill Bunch, executive director of Save Our Springs Alliance.

Habitat loss is the leading cause of our planet’s dwindling biodiversity, and the golden-cheeked warbler is no exception. A third of its habitat disappeared between 1999 and 2011, and rapid land development of the hill country continues to remove the juniper and oak woodlands, rocky uplands and canyon tops that the birds call home. The golden-cheeked warbler has no business being removed from the endangered species list as long as its habitat is subject to this level of threat. Important to note is that its habitat overlaps with various other vulnerable species in the region as well.

GLO and TPPF argue that responsibility for the bird’s legal protections undermines their “ability to maximize revenues” in the area. Their motives lean not towards conservation, but maximizing profit at the expense of our state’s biodiversity.

Texas currently has one of the highest population growth rates in the country, and increased pressure for development in the Hill Country will “likely continue to drive the trends of [golden-cheeked warbler] habitat disturbance and degradation” predicts the Defenders of Wildlife. But conservation and land monitoring action can be taken to mitigate this destruction, protecting the bird’s breeding range and working to preserve the various species that uniquely represent our state.

“If the warbler is doing well, I would ultimately like to get it off of the endangered species list, but I don’t think we’re ready for that,” said Travis Audubon board member Clifton Ladd.

The FWS will soon announce its decision regarding the bird’s protection level moving forward. Depending on their decision, the GLO/TPPF lawsuit will likely continue, so this fight may carry on for years to come.

Our golden-cheeked warbler is the poster child of biodiversity in our state, and it is crucial that we do everything we can to protect it and its habitat.


Gwendolyn Reed

Communications Intern

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.

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