Late this past December, Bexar County and the City of San Antonio applied for an incidental take permit under the proposed South Edwards Plateau Habitat Conservation Plan. The plan, to be administered by both Bexar County and the City of San Antonio, would expand the Endangered Species Act by creating a public, local mechanism for compliance and enforcement of the act in Bexar, Medina, Bandera, Kerr, Kendall, Blanco, and Comal counties.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists two song birds – the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler, along with nine different bugs—as endangered. All eleven animals can be found in the aforementioned counties. Compliance with the ESA requires authorization from the government to “take” a listed species; a very broadly defined term that amounts to any activity that could affect a species in any way.
Administering the plan will give both government entities a lot of flexibility and discretion when it comes to development that would otherwise be prevented by compliance to the act. It would streamline the permitting process for “incidental takes,” which allow any activity that “takes” a listed species, provided there is proper mitigation. This presents a potentially onerous problem for the region’s many landowners, many of whom could see their land taken forcefully via eminent domain to create a federal preserve as required by the act, as well as be fined for usage of their own private land in a manner prohibited by the SEP-HCP.
Many citizens who stand to be affected have voiced strong, passionate opposition to these proposals, citing concerns that it is simply a land, money, and power grab by the two entities. Given Bexar County’s history of cronyism, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow on their partnership in this plan.
According to a California Farm Bureau detailing the problems with HCPs, “Local governments often promote habitat conservation plans as a ‘solution’ to problems created by federal and state Endangered Species Acts.” If the solution to a problem created by government is more government, one has to wonder if the problem is really that bad in the first place. Any plan that involves a very real possibility of eminent domain should be carefully scrutinized, lest unrepresented Texans end up with a “solution” much worse than the problems it addresses.