A fight to remove a spider-like creature that only lives in limestone caves in Williamson and Travis counties from the endangered species list might be headed to a showdown in federal court. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that a petition to remove the Bone Cave harvestman from the list didn’t present “substantial information” to warrant the delisting.
Those who oppose listing the arachnids as endangered have said the designation threatens the rights of private property owners to develop their land.
“I’m quite disappointed with the decision,” said Paul Weiland, an attorney for American Stewards of Liberty, a nonprofit group protecting private property rights.
The group — along with some Williamson County residents, including rancher John Yearwood — filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 seeking to remove the eyeless, pale orange creature from the list. The lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service, which was later joined by Williamson County, has been delayed while the petition was being considered.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed the petition.
“It looks like for the time being we will be in court,” Weiland said Wednesday.
He said that when the Bone Cave harvestman was listed as endangered in 1988, it was only found in a half-dozen sites, but it has now been found in more than 170 sites and is protected “in a vast majority of those.”
Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey said Wednesday the county’s habitat plan has set aside enough caves for the Bone Cave harvestman to ensure the species “won’t go extinct.”
Yearwood has said he aims to attack the federal government’s authority to require habitat protections for such single-state species as the Bone Cave harvestman.
“This isn’t just about a cave bug,” Yearwood has previously told the American-Statesman. His property has been in his family’s hands since the 1870s and has three of the crevices where the harvestman has been found. “It’s about the private property rights, about overreach from the government,” he said.
Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation group, said the federal agency’s decision to not delist the Bone Cave harvestman was “what we expected.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision not to delist the cave bug Wednesday but said details about it wouldn’t be available until Thursday.
Margolis said the federal agency’s decision was consistent with what the agency found in a previous review of the species, which was that they were “still threatened and subject to extinction because of their limited range and the impacts to them.”