in Houston, Texas
Salamanders would be blocked from endangered species listing under bill by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Rep. John Carter
Monday, Jul 30, 2012, 12:14PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Georgetown salamander

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. John Carter of Texas are attempting to disrupt what has become, at taxpayer expense, the most extensive salamander education program in American history.

In case you missed it from over the weekend, Cornyn and Carter have introduced a bill they call Salamander Community Conservation Act, the Hill is reporting. You can see the text of the bill here.

The bill harnesses the might of our entire federal government to keep the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing as endangered four of our personal favorite salamanders: the Austin blind, the Georgetown, the Jollyville Plateau and Salado.

This bit of killjoy legislation is designed to get in front of what has produced a robust cottage industry for boutique environmental law offices, lawsuits of the kind that have made the Barton Springs salamander and dunes sagebrush lizard two of the most beloved reptiles since Beany and Cecil.

Cornyn and Carter say the abuse of the Endangered Species Act is not only a waste of government time and taxpayer money, billions of dollars in economic development are lost in the areas cordoned off as protected salamander habitat.

“The ongoing attempts by environmental extremists to circumvent this process through court action cannot be tolerated,” Carter is quoted in the Hill story. “This legislation can restore common sense and due process to environmental issues, provide better species protection results and recognize the needs of human beings as well as salamanders.”

The two lawmakers says they learned a lesson from the lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians to force the listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard. Last month, officials for the Fish and Wildlife Service put a temporary halt to all the legal fun by rejecting Ol’ Sagey.

"The real problem is how the Endangered Species Act is being abused." Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said in a press release. “Today it's the dunes sagebrush  lizard, tomorrow it's another species to settle another lawsuit."

The New York Times did a little digging last year into all this federal reptile dysfunction, to steal from Patterson’s priceless release headline. At the time, WildEarth Guardians and another environmental group, Center for Biological Diversity, had filed more than 100 lawsuits against the U.S. Department of the Interior over roughly 1,100 species.

By swamping the Fish and Wildlife Service and causing them to miss deadlines for deciding on the listing of species as endangered, the Times found these environmental groups were able to pile on more litigation.

Taxpayers have had the privilege of funding all of this. The Fish and Wildlife Service budget went up 11 percent  to $24.6 million for the endangered species listing alone. Since 2009 the program budget is up 28 percent, the Times says.

What taxpayers might not know is that in addition to congressional action and federal litigation, they pay to support the work of WildEarth Guardians. Texas Watchdog took a look at the most recent financial statement, 2010, posted by the New Mexico-based non-profit group.

In that year, $487,748, roughly a third of its $1.5 million annual budget came from government grants. In 2009, government grants accounted for $583,496 of its budget. In its annual report, the group says those grants come from the New Mexico Environment Department and, get ready for this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service it is suing perpetually.

You can hardly blame them for suing, if you can believe their 2011 annual report. More than 15 percent or $303,046 of its total revenues of $1.96 million came from legal settlements.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of the Georgetown salamander via Southwestern University.

Mark Salvo
Wednesday, 08/01/2012 - 11:44AM

This article, “Salamanders would be blocked from endangered species listing under bill by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Rep. John Carter,” misreports a number of facts about species conservation and WildEarth Guardians.

1. WildEarth Guardians *did not* sue to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose listing the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act. The lizard was designated a "candidate" species in 2001. Guardians petitioned to emergency list the species in 2008. The agency rejected our petition, and then published its proposed listing rule two years later.

2. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently assessing the Austin blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau and Salado salamanders for listing under the Endangered Species Act because the *agency itself* determined that all four species warranted protection years ago. The Austin blind salamander was designated a candidate species in 2002; the other three salamanders became candidates for listing in 1994. Three of four of these animals have waited nearly two decades for protection while their populations and range have continued to decline. Senator Cornyn and Representative Carter have introduced legislation in an attempt to block this Congressionally mandated, scientific decisionmaking process and protect industry from having to make even small concessions to protect remaining habitat for the species.

3. The article confuses government grants with litigation fees. The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior granted WildEarth Guardians $680,492 between 2007-2011 to support riparian restoration programs in the Southwest. These are competitive, restricted grants that Guardians has used to plant hundreds of thousands of cottonwood trees, willows and other vegetation to restore degraded streams in New Mexico and Arizona. We have also received funding from state and local agencies and private sources to support this important work. By contrast, WildEarth Guardians has never received more than fifteen percent of annual revenue from litigation fees (and usually much less). Our litigation department is less than 4 years old.

4. The Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service recently stated that litigation has not had a negative effect on the Endangered Species Act ( In fact, WildEarth Guardians landmark species settlement agreement with the agency has improved administration of the ESA, reduced litigation, accelerated species listings and provided important protections for imperiled flora and fauna across the country (

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