Last Updated ( Sunday, 25 December 2011 )
PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
The Hill Country/Edwards Plateau region, with its springs, caves, and rugged canyons, is home to one of Earth’s great biodiversity hotspots. An assessment of the region by the Nature Conservancy in 2004 found that “this varied ecological setting . . . makes the Edwards Plateau one of the most diverse biological regions in the world.” Within the region, there are more than 50 known species of plants and animals that live nowhere else. There are also an untold number of species waiting to be discovered. As one study stated, “[t]here are of course undiscovered caves with undiscovered species, undiscovered species in known caves, and undescribed species from one or more caves.” A similar observation can be made about the “island” habitats created by Hill Country springs.
This rich biodiversity is now threatened by our region’s rapid urbanization coupled with inadequate regulations and limited public preserve lands. The roads, subdivisions, and strip malls, along with the pollution, pesticides and water pumping associated with this development, destroy aquatic and terrestrial habitats and the plants and animals that depend on them.
At the local level, administrators lack both the political will and the legal tools to protect endangered species habitats. At the federal level, agency intransigence and reluctance have largely ground the mechanisms available for protecting endangered species to a halt. (For example, since taking office in 2001, only 56 species have been listed, compared to 234 under the first President Bush and 512 during the Clinton administration.) Here, as in other states, direct “citizen enforcement” by conservationists is necessary to force federal Fish & Wildlife Service officials to protect endangered species.