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Texas: a battleground between developers and conservationists over the golden-cheeked warbler

Golden-cheeked warbler

Housing estate developers are in competition with conservationists and at the centre of this battle in the state of Texas, USA is the golden-cheeked warbler. This is a paradigm case of the constant friction between conservationists and commercial enterprises. Commerce wants to destroy habitat, to exploit it to make money whereas conservationists want to protect it.

Golden-cheeked warbler

Golden-cheeked warbler. Photo: Steve Maslowski/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The problem in this instance is that the federal government of the USA believes that the golden-cheeked warbler is an endangered bird whereas the Texas authorities believe that it is not endangered and therefore some of its habitat can be destroyed to make way for housing developments.

The backstory is that the population of Texas is booming, fuelled in part by a growing tech industry and new arrivals who’ve become fed up with high taxes in alternative economic hubs such as in California.

Those people who want to remove the golden-cheeked warbler from the endangered species list point to studies which suggest that the numbers have grown in recent years. They filed a lawsuit to have it removed from the endangered species list but the federal government rejected survey findings that the population of the birds demanded a loosening of its protection.

The US government believes that there are about 27,000 male warblers based on a 2007 estimate for the Texas Department of Transportation (as reported in the Texas Tribune). However, a 2012 study suggest that the number at that time was nearer to 263,000. And a 2018 survey estimates that there may be 233,000 male warblers in Texas. This finding is awaiting peer-review. Jim Mueller said: “The current population size is much larger than was estimated”, in a conversation with the Texas Tribune. This is good news, he added, but there are still threats to its habitat.

In 1990, the warbler was first listed as endangered. It has a breeding distribution of about 26,000 miĀ² of which 4% is suitable with the right sort of woodland containing the Ashe juniper bark that the bird relies on to nest.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service argues that destruction of its habitat has increased. This is due to suburbs expanding from hubs in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. They say that a 2012 study concluded that the bird’s habitat has shrunk by 29%.

The Texas General Land Office joined in a 2017 lawsuit to try and remove the species from the endangered list. They are concerned that the protection of this bird species lowers property values; confirmation of the battle between conservation and commerce.

A senior lawyer with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Ted Hadzi-Antich, said: “To my mind it’s pretty clear that [the warbler population] is increasing, and that the habitat fragmentation, predation and urbanisation have not been adversely impacting the warblers”.

Conservationists believe that the threat to this distinctive bird with a bright yellow face and bold black marks persist. There is a backstory to take into account namely that across the globe there has been increased pressure on nearly all wildlife due to human population growth and expanding commercial activities such as is evidenced in Texas at the moment. It is time to make a stand against this. Noah Greenwald of the Centre for Biological Diversity, said: “The golden-cheeked warbler challenges us to protect woodlands in an area that’s being rapidly developed.”

My thanks to The Times.