The Texas comptroller's office will use $5 million appropriated by state legislators to fund university-centered research on three species at risk of being classified as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Comptroller Susan Combs said in a press release on Thursday that her office, with the help of a working group, had selected freshwater mussels, the spot-tailed earless lizard and the desert massasaugas, a type of snake, for conservation research. These species have habitats in 190 of the 254 Texas counties, which cover 75 percent of the state’s landmass.
“I worked hard to get the funding since gathering accurate scientific data and providing it to the federal listing agencies is one of the best ways to deal with the increasing number of species under review in Texas that can greatly impact our economy,” Combs said.
Combs and some state lawmakers have suggested that if species like these are added to the list of endangered or threatened species, it could have a negative effect on the local or regional economic climates, or even the housing market. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, water and land use can be restricted.
This research project — which will be open to competitive bids from all Texas public universities — is separate from the comptroller’s efforts to conserve the state’s threatened sagebrush lizard, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has considered for a threatened or endangered designation. Combs said both initiatives are in the interest of the state economy.
“This process further ensures the best science is available when the federal government is determining if a species should be listed and raises the standard for data used in listing decisions,” Combs said.
Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said he's supportive of further research on endangered species in Texas. But he said he remains skeptical that the comptroller's office considers all stakeholders — or that it should be the agency leading such initiatives.
“You do want to make sure that this isn’t all about the oil and gas industry,” Reed said.
Combs and her office plan to continue to identify additional species that need research. Combs said the comptroller’s office will work with state research leaders, the Fish and Wildlife Service and other state and federal government agencies to add more species to the lineup.