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Texas Rancher Has Bone to Pick With Bone Cave Harvestman

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A minute, blind spider-like species which can be found only in Central Texas has been at the center of a lawsuit of late. John Yearwood, a rancher from Williamson County, north of Austin, initiated the lawsuit, in conjunction with the American Stewards of Liberty. Their battle isn’t against the species, which is called the Texella reyesi (a.k.a. Bone Cave harvestman), but against the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the county. And it’s not to protect the species, but to have it removed from the Endangered Species Act.

Support of Attorney General of Texas

Texas Rancher vs. Spider on Endangered Species List

Photo: Facebook/Texas Attorney General

Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, has shown his support of Yearwood in December 2016 and joined the ranks of those that feel there are agencies that could possibly be abusing the Interstate Commerce Clause in this matter. The Bone Cave harvestman is an orange arachnid over which Yearwood has been up against with Fish and Wildlife for more than two years now. He alleges the species has cost his ranch and the county millions of dollars in development which has been blocked resulting from its protection.

Lawsuit Outcome Could Have Broad Implications

Texas Rancher vs. Spider on Endangered Species List

Photo: Wikipedia

In a statement quoted by the Daily Caller, Yearwood stated, “I welcome Texas’ engagement in support of our claims. This case doesn’t just affect my family and our property. It affects property owners all across the state. We’re grateful that the Texas Attorney General is standing up for us, and for Texas.” March 2017 is the earliest that oral arguments are anticipated to be heard in this suit, and of particular interest is the argument that the US Fish and Wildlife Service cannot regulate commerce on behalf of a species which only exists in one state. The outcome of this suit could have broad implications, considering close to 70 percent of all animal and plant species that are listed by the federal government as threatened or endangered would fall into this category.

Testing the 10th Amendment

Texas Rancher vs. Spider on Endangered Species List

Photo: Wikimedia

A statement by Yearwood’s counsel, given on December 14, 2016, identified, “This is a request for a court review of the concept of the limited enumerated powers of the federal government hardwired into our Constitution. It’s something we’ve lost with the growth of Commerce Clause powers. We’re trying to restore its original, Constitutional meaning,” and that with the attorney general’s support, they had momentum to test the 10th Amendment as a restraint on Commerce Clause overreach. When the Bone Cave harvestman was first added to the endangered list by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, it was found in only a handful of caves within two Central Texas counties. That was back in 1988, and since then, it can be found in over one hundred and seventy places within those counties. The US Fish and Wildlife Service declines to take it off the endangered list after a five-year review, however, having only ever made reverse decisions on 62 species out of the thousands of species listed.

Mitigation Permits Cost $400,000 Per Acre

Texas Rancher vs. Spider on Endangered Species List

Photo: Wikimedia

Williamson County manages eleven preserves for the Bone Cave harvestman, entailing almost 900 acres. Land purchases to continue these preserves have been estimated as a cost to the county as well as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) at $6 million. Mitigation permits to develop near their habitats cost $400,000 per acre, leaving private landowners in the lurch for development on or near their property. Maintenance of the preserves also upheld construction of Highway 195 for years until Texas and Williamson County together relented on a habitat purchase.

Original Petition Was Dismissed

Texas Rancher vs. Spider on Endangered Species List

Photo: Flickr/US Fish and Wildlife Service

The US Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned by Margaret and Dan Byfield of the American Stewards of Liberty, together with Yearwood, who remains frustrated by the sprawl of the species habitat and its continued protection. Their charge was that the US Fish and Wildlife Service did incomplete scientific research on the rarity of the Bone Cave harvestman. Within a year, the agency had dismissed the petition. As a result of the ongoing process, Yearwood has said, “I knew from the beginning that this fight could take a long time, but I also knew that it was about more than just our land. This case is about freedom and the Constitution. I’m proud to be a part of that.”


Daily Caller