Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 10, 2023
(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is recommending the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) delay its decision to list two blind, cave-dwelling fish as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Hegar said FWS’ proposal to list the toothless blindcat and widemouth blindcat is based on a lack of primary research and could create unnecessary restrictions on water use in the Edwards Aquifer, which is the main habitat of the cavefish.
“FWS’ decision to list these species as endangered could have the downstream effect of reducing or eliminating access to water for Texas families, farmers and business owners in major portions of the city of San Antonio and the Hill Country,” Hegar said.
“In 2007, as a state senator, I created a stakeholder-driven process to develop a plan to conserve listed species in the Edwards Aquifer and maintained an active role to assist the stakeholders as they worked through an array of extremely difficult issues,” Hegar said in a comment letter to FWS regarding its proposed listing decision. “FWS should delay this proposed rule to gather more complete and accurate information about the species’ status. FWS should coordinate with the state to conduct sampling and monitoring to develop a basic understanding of the species’ current status and range.”
In his letter to FWS, Hegar said FWS’ proposal extends the significant protections of the ESA to the toothless blindcat and widemouth blindcat without adequate data and analysis to provide a good understanding of historic and current population levels, species’ distribution, basic life history and habitat requirements. Hegar added that FWS speculates on the magnitude of the potential threat to the species, which FWS argues is caused by pumping groundwater from wells that provide water to major portions of San Antonio.
Further, Hegar said, the proposal undervalues existing conservation and regulatory mechanisms that provide protections for the species’ habitat. The Edwards Aquifer Authority Habitat Conservation Plan, the San Antonio Water System’s water quality protection measures, San Antonio's land protection program and many other successful efforts provide overarching protections for these species.
“This aquifer is the primary water source for more than 2 million people in south-central Texas, serving domestic, agricultural, industrial and recreational needs,” Hegar said. “Use of this aquifer was a source of contention among these various interests for more than 50 years. A stakeholder-driven process led to the successful creation of the Edwards Aquifer Authority Habitat Conservation Plan that resolved the water dispute while providing protection for listed species in the aquifer. This program received a 2013 FWS Partners in Conservation Award for its success in using collaboration and partnership to address endangered species and water-resource issues.”
The Comptroller’s office is currently soliciting proposals (PDF) from Texas public universities to conduct research on species listed by FWS or National Marine Fisheries Service under the ESA as threatened or endangered and petitioned or candidate species. Proposals are due to the Comptroller by Dec. 13.
The Comptroller’s Natural Resources program funds research at state universities to inform ESA decisions and help communities and stakeholders develop voluntary conservation programs. These programs allow Texas to protect its natural resources while avoiding needless restrictions on economic growth.
The agency is committed to developing science-based solutions to ESA challenges, while maintaining the highest standards of ethics, accountability, transparency and professionalism.