New ESA Plan Would Lock up Over a Million Acres of Private Property in Texas

Published April 1, 1998

A proposed “habitat conservation plan” (HCP) for Central Texas will lock up over one million acres of private property, warns Ike Sugg, a fellow in wildlife and land-use policy at the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“This plan is the greatest threat to property rights Texas landowners have faced in the history of the state,” said Ike Sugg.

At issue is a plan to provide habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo, both of which are on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) endangered species list. Last month, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPW), with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Interior, completed its third draft of what is known as the “Central Texas Rare Species Conservation Plan.” A final draft of the plan, expected to be complete by the end of May, will be submitted to the FWS for approval by August.

“If Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt approves the plan his lawyers helped write, it will be illegal for private landowners to modify or disturb at least one million acres of private property in the state of Texas,” Sugg warned. If approved, the plan will require TPW to prohibit “habitat modification” on the million acres of privately owned land that is deemed “suitable” habitat for the two species of birds. “The only way to stop this plan . . . is to prevent Texas Park and Wildlife from submitting it to the federal government on behalf’ of Texas landowners,” Sugg added.

Sugg considers the current plan to be even worse than the 1994 proposal to designate 33 counties as “critical habitat” for the golden-cheeked warbler. “When landowners got wind of that proposal, the property rights movement ignited in Texas and defeated it,” he noted, pointing out that the same 33 counties, plus vast tracts of additional land, are included in the latest plan.

“The HCP process is billed as participatory, yet small landowners have been excluded from this process because they have every reason to oppose the plan,” said Sugg, a Texas native. “If the control of private property is to remain a valid right in the state of Texas, landowners must stand up now and fight.”