Science Matters—Keep Protecting the Golden-cheeked Warbler

If attempts to gut protections for the Texas songbird succeed, it could face extinction.

AUSTIN, Texas (March 24, 2017)—Earlier this month, the Texas General Land Office announced its intent to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service to strip federal protections for the Golden-cheeked Warbler. This beautiful bird breeds exclusively in Texas Hill Country, the 25 counties between Austin and San Antonio, and a one-two punch of disappearing habitat and climate change could doom it to extinction if delisting efforts succeed.

“Decisions to list or delist species must be based on the best-available science, period,” said Sarah Greenberger, Audubon’s VP for conservation. “The science tells us that the Golden-cheeked Warbler faces extinction as its habitat continues to rapidly disappear due to development and the impacts of a changing climate. For that reason, Audubon opposes delisting and supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determination to keep it listed and protected.”

As recently as June 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service decided to reject petitions by Texas officials to delist the bird, which first joined the endangered species list in 1990 after decades of habitat loss and fragmentation. Bexar Audubon and Travis Audubon, chapters from San Antonio and Austin, respectively, opposed last year’s delisting effort as well as this latest attempt by Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

“The lawsuit, brought by a private organization with the support of Commissioner George P. Bush of the Texas General Land Office, is citing a 2012 Texas A&M study that has already been proven flawed,” said Greg Pasztor, president of the Bexar Audubon Society. “The 2016 attempt to delist the Golden-cheeked Warbler using the same study was already rejected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This petition could accelerate not only the death of a species, but the decline of one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Golden-cheeked Warbler is for Texans the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine.’”

Joan Marshall, executive director of the Travis Audubon Society in Austin agrees. “We feel it’s premature to delist the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Development continues to threaten the bird’s habitat and you can’t sustain the population without maintaining the habitat. This tiny Texas native and the many other plants and animals that live together in the Hill Country are part of our natural heritage. Their survival reflects the overall health and well-being of our environment”

Greenberger added, “Instead of fighting necessary protections, we invite the State of Texas to work with Audubon and other stakeholders to address threats to the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the places it needs, today and tomorrow.”

In response to this and other threats to the Endangered Species Act, Audubon is asking members and supporters to contact their members of Congress and urge them to oppose efforts to weaken this landmark conservation law.