AG Paxton Defends Private Property Rights from Federal Overreach
AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today argued the federal government imposed unlawful restrictions on Texas landowners by listing the Bone Cave Harvestman—a tiny, cave-dwelling arachnid that exists only in two Central Texas counties—as part of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Williamson County and property owner John Yearwood challenged the federal government’s authority to use the Interstate Commerce Clause to regulate non-commercial interactions with the Bone Cave Harvestman, which lives underground and generally cannot be observed by humans. Yearwood’s 35-acre property has belonged to his family for more than 140 years, and he allows community organizations and worship groups to use it at no charge for camping and other recreational purposes. When the Bone Cave Harvestman was found on a portion of his property, Yearwood faced prosecution by the federal government if the arachnid was disturbed. Anyone who knowingly harms a Bone Cave Harvestman or its habitat could be fined $50,000 and serve time in prison. Development within 35 feet of a known harvestman cave required $400,000 per acre in mitigation permits.
In 2014, Yearwood and other landowners petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to lift onerous restrictions on how they can use their land, arguing the Bone Cave Harvestman should no longer be listed as an endangered species. The Obama administration refused. And a federal district judge concluded the federal government can regulate how they use their property to avoid disturbing the Bone Cave Harvestman, even though it exists in only two Texas counties and has no commercial use or value. Attorney General Paxton today argued in support of Yearwood and Williamson County’s appeal, urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to recognize that the federal government has limited powers.
“The Obama administration abused its power under the Endangered Species Act by unlawfully listing a species on the endangered list that only lives in the state of Texas and has no impact whatsoever on interstate commerce,” said Attorney General Paxton. “The federal government has no place regulating local, non-commercial activities under the guise of its limited interstate commerce regulation powers. This vast federal overreach cannot stand.”
The Constitution grants the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce. That power does not include wholly intrastate species like the Bone Cave Harvestman that have no relationship to interstate commerce. For such localized species, it is the state and county, not the federal government, which can best address conservation.