John Yearwood is a decorated military veteran. He runs a small business and lives on a farm that has been in the family since 1871.
“For more than a century the Yearwoods family has stewarded their piece of Texas and provided a safe and diverse habitat for children and members of their community. Now the federal government wants to interfere with his private property rights – over a bug smaller than a fingernail,” explains TPPF Attorney Chance Weldon.
Over the years, John and his family have used their farmland to benefit the community. The Yearwoods have allowed local church youth groups and the high school 4-H club to use the property for camping. In 2018, Mr. Yearwood built a shooting range for the high school 4-H club to practice gun-sports. The Yearwoods do not charge the groups to use the property.
These community outreach projects are in jeopardy, however, because the best part of the land for camping is also home to the Bone Cave Harvestman. (BCH). Under the Endangered Species Act, it is a federal crime to do anything to harm the BCH or its habitat. So the Yearwoods are left to choose between thousands of dollars in permits or thousands more in civil and criminal penalties or to abandon the use of the property.
The Bone Cave Harvestman (BCH) lives solely in isolated caves in central Texas. It is not bought or traded in interstate commerce and has no substantial effect on interstate commerce. Likewise, BCH spiders are not a fungible good, the regulation of which is necessary to regulate an interstate market. Accordingly, neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress the authority to regulate BCH takes.
“John Yearwood is no worse off than the countless other Americans unlucky enough to have an endangered species on their property. What makes Mr. Yearwood’s struggle unique is that the species on his property falls outside the federal government’s constitutional authority to regulate it,” says Weldon.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to use its authority under the Interstate Commerce Clause to regulate interactions with a small arachnid (the BCH) that doesn’t cross state lines or affect commerce. This federal overreach costs cities and landowners millions of dollars a year and prevents families from using their land for harmless things like camping and recreation.
For years, Williamson County has been the poster-child for species conservation. Just this year, the County was given an Award by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for its efforts to preserve the Georgetown and Jollyville Salamanders. The County currently maintains 11 wildlife preserves designed to protect the Bone Cave Harvestman—two more than what USFWS claims is necessary to preserve the species in perpetuity. But USFWS is demanding more.
Texas Public Policy Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Yearwood to protect his constitutional right to use his property without federal interference. Should this lawsuit be successful, the protection of the Bone Cave harvester would go back to state and local governments — which, incidentally, already have protections for cave species. More importantly, a dangerous 5th Circuit precedent that could be used for virtually unchecked federal authority would be taken off the books. In the end, the federal government should not have a say as to whether children camp on Mr. Yearwood’s property.
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