Property rights in Texas suffered a setback recently when the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department approved an unprecedented expansion of regulatory power under the state’s endangered and threatened species laws.
Even though the proposal was opposed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Texas Farm Bureau, and written concerns were expressed by Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian, TPWD barreled forward to add 45 species to the state threatened list — based on flawed data and unreliable, incomplete information.
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s proposal, published in the Texas Register on Dec. 20, would expand the number of state-threatened species to 147. Being listed carries with it a wide array of regulations, including restrictions on hunting, possessing, transporting, collecting or selling these species. Those who fail to observe these restrictions face not only criminal fines but, in some cases, jail time.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation opposed the TPWD proposal because it expands state regulation of private property and represents an unprecedented expansion in the number of species regulated under state law. What’s more, the TPWD list of 45 species includes 39 species not currently regulated by the federal government. TPWD’s actions give radical environmental groups a to-do list of new species to pursue for federal listing.
Since 2001, species have been added to the state’s threatened species list five times, with four of those instances featuring the addition of only one species. But TPWD now seeks to indiscriminately place three times that many species onto the state’s lists.
This increase in volume is far from the only cause for concern. Two of the species overlap with liquefied natural gas operations along the Texas Gulf Coast, calling into question whether regulation of these species will disrupt our energy sector. The proposal provides thin justification and little supporting evidence. There is, instead, only a vague statement that the department utilized a protocol developed by NatureServe, a nonprofit environmental group.
Once a species is added, removal is often a slow and arduous process. For example, even though the federal government found the Arctic peregrine falcon had fully recovered in 1994, it took TPWD another 15 years to remove the species from its threatened animals list.
The TPWD proposal is also duplicative of other state programs. The Texas comptroller’s office already has such a program, which is dedicated to ensuring the federal government “makes transparent listing decisions for species in Texas based on up-to-date and accurate scientific and technical information, with opportunities for meaningful public input.” And unlike TPWD, the comptroller manages to accomplish all this without restricting and penalizing private citizens.
In 2016, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott fought the federal Endangered Species Act listing of the scimitar-horned oryx. Abbott described the proposed listing as a “burdensome new regulation … that threatened the economic viability of Texas.” If one proposed unwarranted listing of a species is this bad for Texas, certainly 45 is much worse, whether the threatened regulatory action comes from the federal or state government.
For Texas to remain a bastion of individual liberty and prosperity, state government must continue to act as a bulwark against federal overreach. And even where it can’t stand by its citizens’ side, it should at least endeavor to get off their back.