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Thread: Golden Cheeked Warbler delisting suit

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    MoJo Mother Superior coopers98's Avatar
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    Golden Cheeked Warbler delisting suit

    Saw this in the local publication.

    https://communityimpact.com/austin/l...gered-species/

    At first you may cheer the opportunity. But tread carefully. Delisting would possibly open up lands to development as much as anything else. Obviously, this group's reason for the suit is to make it easier to proceed with development projects. I bolded the quote from the group concerning the delisting.

    -----------------------

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation intends to file a lawsuit that, if successful, would remove from the federal endangered species list the golden-cheeked warbler, a small black songbird with a yellow head that nests exclusively in Central Texas.

    The TPPF notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the impending lawsuit March 9. The lawsuit is a response to a petition the group filed in 2016 to delist the bird, a request that USFWS denied, said Ted Hadzi-Antich, senior attorney for the TPPF Center for the American Future.

    Robert Henneke, director of the Center for the American Future, said the warbler is a recovered species and should no longer be regulated by the federal government under the Endangered Species Act.

    Endangered species are animals or plants that are in danger of extinction, and recovered species are no longer at risk, according to the USFWS.

    History of warbler protection

    The warbler was listed as an endangered species in 1990 based on habitat loss and destruction to juniper and oak woodlands, where the bird nests, said Lisa O’Donnell, senior biologist for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

    The warbler’s population was 13,800 in 1990, with a habitat in Texas of 1,270 square miles, Hadzi-Antich said.LTW-2017-04-25-2

    The BCP was established in 1992, and by 1996 a plan for Austin and Travis County to acquire additional preserve land and manage the preserve for endangered species was put in place.

    “Land acquisition and managing habitat is so important,” O’Donnell said. “For species that depend on old growth habitats, it is really hard to recreate [the habitat] once its lost.”

    In 2014, the USFWS conducted a five-year review of the species and determined the warbler continued to be in danger of extinction, USFWS Media Coordinator Lesli Gray said.

    Hadzi-Antich said the TPPF filed the petition to delist the warbler in 2016 based on new research from the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. The program estimated the species’ population was 19 times larger than it was in 1990. The service again reviewed the warbler’s status after the petition was filed.

    “We made the determination that the petition didn’t present substantial information to warrant delisting the bird at that time,” Gray said. “It’s not just about population numbers but the current threats it may face.”

    Why delist the warbler?

    “The point of the Endangered Species Act is to protect species that are in danger,” Hadzi-Antich said. “Obviously, we’re in favor of that, but if a species is no longer threatened, there’s no need for these protections.”

    However, he said delisting the warbler is more than just a formality based on the species’ signs of recovery.

    “Before developers can get any kind of federal permits to construct a building or road, the FWS looks at a proposed project and determines whether the species [is] going to be impacted,” he said. “It could take years for them to issue a biological opinion, which could block a project. It’s potentially a very heavy burden on businesses and individuals if a species is in the way of productive human activity.”

    What’s next?

    Although the lawsuit will not officially be filed until May, if the warbler was eventually delisted, O’Donnell said it would be more important than ever to protect the land that is already a part of the BCP.

    “[The warbler] nests in a very limited range,” she said. “In terms of habitat loss due to growth, you can drive through the Hill Country and see for yourself. That habitat is not increasing.”

    Austin Water Assistant Director Daryl Slusher, who manages Austin’s Wildland Division, said the preserve is home to a number of other animals, and conservation would continue even without the warbler’s endangered status.

    “We would still continue to manage the preserve and protect other endangered species,” he said. “Hopefully [those efforts] would protect the warbler’s habitat as well.”

    For any species that is delisted, the service has a monitoring plan that tracks the species for at least five years, Gray said.

    “The service monitors the species to make sure things are going in the right direction and there are no additional threats,” she said.

  2. #2
    MoJo Mother Superior Tree magnet's Avatar
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    I don't like the practices of the BCP but I consider them the lesser of two evils when compared to unchecked development. Is there an opportunity here to make a coalition of groups that want to protect open spaces for recreation and conservation? I don't think that anyone could produce data that shows mountain biking negatively impacts warbler nesting MORE than building a strip center.
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    The bolded portion of the article is true for most areas outside the BCP. However, the BCP is a permit from USFWS to allow CoA & Travis County to manage the endangered species habitat locally instead of at the federal level. There is a HUGE benefit to having local control and a consistent set of rules for development.

    The BCP has some problems but I think it is better than going back to the federal government for any / all development permit approvals.

    Delisting the golden cheeked warbler will not have a major impact on the existing portions of the BCP. It will have a bigger impact on areas outside the BCP. And there are other endangered species besides the warbler that are included in lands protected under the BCP.

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    MoJo Bishop AFROTHUND3R's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tree magnet View Post
    Is there an opportunity here to make a coalition of groups that want to protect open spaces for recreation and conservation? I don't think that anyone could produce data that shows mountain biking negatively impacts warbler nesting MORE than building a strip center.
    I was interested in this too so I just googled it. I found this study interesting considering it was conducted right here in Ft. Hood and Austin.

    Mountain Biking Trail Use Affects Reproductive Success of Nesting Golden-Cheeked Warblers

    We evaluated foraging and nesting behavior, territory size, and nest success of Golden-cheeked Warblers (Dendroica chrysoparia), a federally endangered songbird, relative to mountain biking trail use. We conducted our study at two mountain biking sites and two control sites at Fort Hood Military Base and in Austin, Texas, in spring 2002 and 2003. Territories of male Golden-cheeked Warblers in biking sites (2.2 ha) were >1.5 times as large as those in non-biking sites (1.4 ha). Mayfield nest success in biking sites (n  =  33) was 35% compared to 70% in non-biking sites (n  =  22). Nest abandonment was three times greater in biking areas (15%) than non-biking areas (5%). Seven nests were depredated in biking sites, but only two nests were depredated in non-biking sites. Texas rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta) were the most frequent nest predator at biking sites, accounting for 71% of the predations. We conducted behavioral observations of male Golden-cheeked Warblers in biking (n  =  139) and non-biking (n  =  204) sites. Males spent similar amounts of time in diurnal behaviors in biking and non-biking sites. We used video-camera systems to record female nesting behaviors at 17 nests in biking sites and 15 nests in non-biking sites. Nesting behaviors of females did not differ between biking and non-biking sites. The cumulative effect of disturbance from mountain biking trail use on Golden-cheeked Warbler foraging and nesting behavior appears to be minimal, but fragmentation and alteration of habitat by mountain biking trails may reduce quality of nesting habitat for Golden-cheeked Warblers.
    (source)

    I of course didn't read the whole study but the abstract was interesting. So based on this one study it would seem that mountain biking did effect GW habitation. I don't know much about the organization conducting it. Maybe they could have some bias but I couldn't find any other research and this study seems to be referenced heavily in other observations of mountain bikings effects on wildlife.

    Just curious to those who would like to see the GW delisted, how come? If it were it's not like mountain bike organizations would have first swing at GW habitation sites. Seeing as money talks I'm sure developers would.

    At Purgatory in San Marcos they have a section of trail that is a known GW habitation site and it is often closed whenever they are in the area. Wonder why most recreational sites that have GW habitations in them can't do something similar?

    Thoughts?

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    MoJo Mother Superior TheSarge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AFROTHUND3R View Post
    Just curious to those who would like to see the GW delisted, how come? If it were it's not like mountain bike organizations would have first swing at GW habitation sites. Seeing as money talks I'm sure developers would.
    Obviously you came to town after the Forest Ridge trail was closed due to GW nesting. It was a favorite trail to many and the resentment runs deep. It's not like delisting would restore access, but it would feel good.
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    MoJo Bishop AFROTHUND3R's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheSarge View Post
    Obviously you came to town after the Forest Ridge trail was closed due to GW nesting. It was a favorite trail to many and the resentment runs deep. It's not like delisting would restore access, but it would feel good.
    Yes, I have little familiarity with that trail. That's a shame. I wonder if denying access could have been avoided if they just did what they do at Purgatory like shutting the trail down for several months a year for GW nesting. Not the whole sytem either, just specific areas.

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    That paper is cited by the BCP constantly. It has been found to be flawed by most that really consider its conclusions. Even the BCP staff thought it was valid, then recognized the problems and decided it was flawed in 2012. Now days they are trying to say its conclusions are valid and 'proof' that mountain biking has a negative impact on the warbler.

    The abstract does not mention at all that the "mountain biking sites" were City Park here in Austin and BLORA (Belton Lake Off-road Recreation Area). You might recognize that City Park has off- road motorcycles operating at the same time and on the same trails as the mountain bikes. BLORA has military tanks operating adjacent to it. But somehow, those "details" did not effect the conclusion of the Davis paper. 100% of the negative impacts to the warbler are attributed to the mountain bikes. Does that appear to be a fair assessment of mountain biking impact on Golden-cheeked Warbler? I think not.

    The military tanks are not even mentioned in the paper. The motorcycles are mentioned but said to be "< 2% " of the trail users. By contrast, researchers were said to be "11% of trail users" and mountain bikers ">80%". I don't know where they were monitoring the "trail users" but suspect it was selected to be a place the motorcycles did not use. If you are at Emma Long these days I think the motorcycles are closer to 50% of the trail users. And the warbler are still there.

    I can go on and on about mtb and GCW. I have written one audit and a follow up to the BCP on the conclusions they drew from their own GCW population counts. The BCP's own data shows that Emma Long Motorcycle Park, with motorcycles and mountain bikes operating year round (including nesting season) is right about average with the rest of the City of Austin BCP sites. Some years, like 2012, Emma Long is better than average. And most of those sites are closed to *ALL* public recreational uses. So if the motorcycles have not chased off the warbler after 45 years of continuous use of the trails, what impact would you expect from mountain biking and hiking in the non-nesting season? I would say the BCP's own data says that low performing BCP tracts need to be opened to mountain bikes and motorcycles to improve the GCW population and productivity.

    Then there is another funny thing showing up. For years it was said that GCW need steeply sloped terrain with closed tree canopy cover. Have you looked at the aerial photographs of the SH45SW site where the BCP "found a GCW nest". Flat, limited tree cover with LOTS of open areas. That raises the question of whether the GCW are nesting in areas we are not expecting, so are we "protecting" the right areas? Or has the GCW 'recovered' to the point that they are having to nest in less desirable areas because there are now so many of them. Or is it possible that there have always been more GCW and we didn't count the ones that were where we didn't expect them? Enquiring minds want to know.

    This is a complex issue that really does not have a 'right answer'. But in several of my former careers there was a very consistent axiom - When the theory and the data don't match, throw out the theory and keep the data. The BCP is throwing out their own data that does not match their theory (keep the public out to protect the GCW).
    Last edited by cxagent; 04-19-2017 at 11:51 AM. Reason: Added info
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    MoJo Bishop AFROTHUND3R's Avatar
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    Wow! That's really interesting I didn't consider the dirt bikes and tanks. I wish there was more info on tank activity near BLORA during the study and where exactly they conducted the study in relation to wherever the tank testing might have been. But you're right, that does not seem fair at all. It really does seem like new research should be done.

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    TAF
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    Interesting that former council member Daryl Slusher is somehow involved - I haven't seen his name associated with this until now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AFROTHUND3R View Post
    Yes, I have little familiarity with that trail. That's a shame. I wonder if denying access could have been avoided if they just did what they do at Purgatory like shutting the trail down for several months a year for GW nesting. Not the whole system either, just specific areas.
    The Golden-cheeked Warbler are nesting in the St Ed's park OUTSIDE of Forest Ridge. They are even nesting right next to Spicewood Springs road. If noise or public activities were disturbing them, they would stop nesting next to noisy roads and heavily used public trails.
    Last edited by cxagent; 04-19-2017 at 12:01 PM. Reason: correct typos

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    Quote Originally Posted by TAF View Post
    Interesting that former council member Daryl Slusher is somehow involved - I haven't seen his name associated with this until now.
    He was Willie's boss for years. If you look at some of the things he wrote about the BCP before he was in his current position, I would think he would be more even handed.

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    MoJo Bishop AFROTHUND3R's Avatar
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    Well it seems you've been confronting this for a while now. Thank you for enlightening me it's definitely influenced my opinion.

    Sent from my SM-G900P using Tapatalk

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    Quote Originally Posted by AFROTHUND3R View Post
    Wow! That's really interesting I didn't consider the dirt bikes and tanks. I wish there was more info on tank activity near BLORA during the study and where exactly they conducted the study in relation to wherever the tank testing might have been. But you're right, that does not seem fair at all. It really does seem like new research should be done.
    City of Austin BCP has contracted and paid for a study. They published some info from the first year(s) in 2012. Then it went dark. I have requested that info repeatedly. They actually took it to the Texas Attorney General to block releasing ANY more info. Something smells fishy about that. But they keep citing the Davis paper. Hmm, could that be the best support they have for their theory? Looks that way.

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    TAF
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    Quote Originally Posted by cxagent View Post
    They actually took it to the Texas Attorney General to block releasing ANY more info.
    Successfully?

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    Quote Originally Posted by TAF View Post
    Successfully?
    Yes

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    Quote Originally Posted by AFROTHUND3R View Post
    Well it seems you've been confronting this for a while now. Thank you for enlightening me it's definitely influenced my opinion.

    Sent from my SM-G900P using Tapatalk
    Yep, some of us around here have been (sometimes heavily) involved with this for almost 20 yrs now. Forest Ridge closure was around 99'. That was what seemed like ground zero for the ongoing closures until the BCP 30k acre land acquisition was completed.

    Welcome to the subject. This topic pops up about 1-2x's per year.

    Thanks
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    MoJo Mother Superior AntonioGG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cxagent View Post
    The Golden-cheeked Warbler are nesting in the St Ed's park OUTSIDE of Forest Ridge. They are even nesting right next to Spicewood Springs road. If noise or public activities were disturbing them, they would stop nesting next to noisy roads and heavily used public trails.
    You know how many loud motorcycles go through Old Spicewood Springs Rd and how extremely loud they are? I live in the area and I can hear them...everyone can. This is something I've been saying and was in my letter to councilmen and BCP: you think loud noises are bad? Clamp down on the "off-road only wink-wink" motorcycle and car muffler sales and during inspections, start doing a massive feral cat catch, neuter/spay, release program.

    That there are nests there is amazing, considering how crazy the traffic is and how popular the park has become (to idiots with off-leash out of control dogs that are "pretty nice except with bikes" apparently). Sorry for the rant.

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    MoJo Mother Superior AntonioGG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cxagent View Post
    Yes
    Don't we have some attorney MTBers with some free time to take this on?

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    Also consider that the GCW is only one of multiple species that inhabit protected (and unprotected land.) There's also the black-capped vireo, some blind cave spiders, and more. The GCW gets the most attention b/c it's most visible. Other animals can prohibit lands from being developed or trail from being built.

    D

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