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Texas General Land Office sues again to lift habitat protections for the golden-cheeked warbler

Golden cheeked warbler sits on a tree.
Steve Maslowski
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The golden-cheeked warbler's estimated population of roughly 27,000 has declined by about 25% in the past three decades, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Texas General Land Office is once again suing the federal government to remove a Central Texas songbird from the endangered species list.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in Waco on Wednesday, accuses the Biden administration, U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of defying a court order to reconsider environmental protections for the golden-cheeked warbler.

The GLO claims the small, migratory birds no longer warrant federal habitat protections that have restricted suburban development between Austin and San Antonio.

“By ignoring a court order, the Biden Administration is knowingly trying to circumvent state sovereignty and further threaten Texas’ management of our public lands,” said Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

The GLO partnered with the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation in a 2017 lawsuit to delist the warbler and free up hundreds of thousands of acres for development. The lawsuit argued the warbler population was several times larger than when it was first listed as endangered in 1990.

In 2019, the federal judge hearing the case in Austin upheld the warbler’s protected status, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in 2020. The conservative appeals court in New Orleans ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to review its designation for the bird after concluding federal officials failed to consider several findings that pointed to the warbler population’s recovery.

Last July the agency again concluded the warbler should remain listed as endangered, contending its estimated population of roughly 27,000 has declined by about 25% in the past three decades.

The GLO’s most recent lawsuit asserts the Fish and Wildlife Service estimate used “the same incorrect standard” that had been tossed by the Fifth Circuit in 2020.

“The Biden Administration’s refusal to follow federal law to delist the warbler has nothing to do with conservation. Current science proves the warbler has recovered,” said Robert Henneke, general counsel and executive director at TPPF, in a news release.

A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.