Today’s announcement reverses and expands a previous Bush-era critical habitat designation of about 1,000 acres, which left out a number of places where the species live and failed to protect sufficient area around the caves.
“We are grateful that through our efforts nearly 7,000 acres of critical habitat may be preserved instead of the 1,000 acres that are protected currently,” said Enrique Valdivia, President of AGUA. “But our work is not done yet. We urge everyone who cares about preserving the natural splendor of the Texas Hill Country to strongly support making this new critical habitat proposal the agency's final designation.”
With colorful names like Cokendolpher Cave harvestman, Robber Baron Cave meshweaver, and Government Canyon Bat Cave spider, these nine species are immediately threatened by urban sprawl. Although the species have adapted to the moist, dark cave environments, having lost sight and pigmentation, what happens at the surface near the cave entrances directly affects the species’ chance of survival. Intact native vegetation around the cave openings is a source of nutrition, helps maintain the temperature and moisture levels of caves, and helps stop the spread of invasive species like fire ants, which threaten these species. If surrounding areas are paved over and turned into housing developments the caves will be permanently altered, and the species will disappear.
“Most scientists believe we’re in an extinction crisis much like the one that destroyed the dinosaurs, except this time the cause is us,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center Biological Diversity. “Ending this crisis and saving species is about choosing to make some places off-limits to development — there is no other way.”
The groups were represented in the litigation by Bill Bunch and Andrew Hawkins of Save Our Springs Alliance. Technical assistance was provided by Dr. Tom Hayes, Science Director at the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.
The species named in today’s decision are Rhadine exilis (ground beetle, no common name); Rhadine infernalis (ground beetle, no common name); Helotes mold beetle; Cokendolpher Cave harvestman; Robber Baron Cave meshweaver; Madla Cave meshweaver; Bracken Bat Cave meshweaver; and the Government Canyon Bat Cave spider.