Tiny Texas Spider Thwarts Developers Again

Newly molted Bone Cave harvestman (Photo by Piers Hendrie)

(CN) – A blind arachnid found only in limestone caves of central Texas, the Bone Cave harvestman spider has for decades thwarted area developers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ensured the spider’s protection again Thursday.

The harvestman was first listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in 1988. The listing was challenged in 1994, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that petition lacked sufficient information to warrant delisting the spiders.

A group called the American Stewards of Liberty says the species’ protection has caused tens of millions of dollars in costly permitting requirements over the past three decades, hampering development.

American Stewards of Liberty and the individual developers petitioned Fish and Wildlife to delist the spider in 2014, but did not like the agency’s 90-day petition finding and took it to court.

Undertaken per an order from a federal judge in Texas, Thursday’s 90-day finding reaffirms the 2015 finding that the petition and documentation do not offer sufficient evidence to delist the spiders.

“Bureaucrats in Washington may view delay in delisting the species due to agency incompetence as justifiable in light of their workloads, but these federal government employees appear blind to the real world impact of their behavior and inaction,” ASL Executive Director Margaret Byfield said in response to the issuance of the court order.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Travis Audubon and Defenders of Wildlife conservationist groups intervened in the court battle.

“Even though these same arguments have already been rejected by the courts, once again developers are attempting to attack the integrity of the Endangered Species Act,” the center’s senior attorney Jared Margolis said. “Protecting the lands that endangered species rely on for survival is good for all of us in the long run, so we have to protect our natural heritage from the shortsighted interest of developers.”

The Center for Biological Diversity notes that protections for the Bone Cave harvestman are habitually under fire. “The same claims have already been raised and rejected by federal courts,” the group said. “But property-rights advocates continue to argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacks constitutional authority under the Endangered Species Act to protect species like the harvestman that live only in an individual state. Should this radical argument prevail, it would undermine federal protections for many other imperiled species.”

Fish & Wildlife is set to complete a species status assessment on the spider next year, and a five-year status review will likely be final in 2019. The agency also noted that Williamson and Travis counties, the only two counties where the spiders are found, are working to establish long term preserves to protect the spiders and other unique species found in the limestone cavern systems.

The service encourages submission of comments or information regarding the harvestman or its habitat at any time.

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