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Golden-cheeked warbler retains protection

Golden-cheeked warbler retains protection

The golden-cheeked warbler, which nests in Central Texas, will remain protected, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced July 26. Photo by Steve Maslowski/USFWS

The golden-cheeked warbler will remain protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday, July 26. Central Texas is the only place in the world the bird nests.

A petition filed June 30, 2015, with the Fish and Wildlife Service requested the golden-cheeked warbler be delisted. A followup court case led by the state of Texas took up the matter.

In its decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the petition “was found to not have substantial information indicating this action is warranted. As such, (the golden-cheeked warbler) will remain protected as endangered under the ESA.”

“Habitat destruction, fragmentation, and degradation remain real and significant threats to the continued existence of the (golden-cheeked) warbler,” the service cited in its review of the petition.

The golden-cheeked warbler, a small, neotropical songbird, only nests in Central Texas, including the Highland Lakes, after migrating to the area in March and leaving again in August for parts of Mexico and Central America.

The female usually builds nests in the crooks of Ashe juniper branches but also will pick small oak, walnut, or pecan trees. The birds appear to return to the same vicinity each year during nesting season.

On Dec. 27, 1990, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the golden-cheeked warbler as an endangered species due to low numbers and concerns over its habitat. 

The service allows citizens to petition for a species to be listed or delisted. On June 30, 2015, it received a petition requesting the golden-cheeked warbler be delisted.

After a 90-day review, the service announced June 3, 2016, the species would remain protected. The same day, the Texas General Land Office challenged the finding, believing the listing negatively affected property values, and the matter went to court in 2017.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas eventually ruled in favor of the service, but the land office appealed.

On Jan. 15, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, citing that the service applied “an inappropriately heightened” standard to the initial petition request. The court stated the service shouldn’t have required information in the petition that it didn’t include in its own five-year review of the species protection plan.

The court pushed the matter back to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service again reviewed the June 2015 petition and again concluded the golden-cheeked warbler should remain protected.

“The petition does not present substantial information indicating that habitat destruction, fragmentation, and degradation may no longer threaten the species with extinction,” the service stated in its review. 

It went on to point out the continued pressure on the golden-cheeked warbler’s nesting habitat in the coming years due to “rapid suburban development and human population growth for Travis, Williamson, Bexar and surrounding counties.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited projections that the population in the 35 counties within the bird’s breeding ranges will increase 64 percent between 2010 and 2050 from 4.7 million people to 7.8 million.

The petition for delisting, according to the service, didn’t provide any scientific data or analysis of existing data to show a decreased threat to the bird associated with changes to its habitat from human encroachment.