Critical designation for endangered plants causing controversy in seven ETX counties

HOUSTON COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Two plants are causing quite a controversy across seven East Texas counties after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 1,500 acres a critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

Houston County Electric Cooperative, General Manager, Kathi Calvert says, "The Neches River rose-mallow is considered threatened and the Texas Golden Gladecress is considered endangered."

So the counties affected (Sabine, San Augustine, Cherokee, Trinity, Houston, Harrison & Nacogdoches) partnered with Houston County Electric Cooperative, hired an independent consultant called "Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability" and did a scientific study of their own.

"Their findings found that in fact the flora is thriving, it's not endangered which is what the fish and wildlife service indicated," said Houston County Judge, Erin Ford.

The critical habitat designation means the land where the plants grow is now under federal management and is no longer accessible by the public.

"We don't want that in our counties and we want to try and convince the fish and wildlife service to rescind their notice," said Ford. "Any lands that are excluded from the public's ability to access, I'm concerned about."

And according to Ford it could impact their economy.

"Well it's part of our timber-based economy," said Ford. "It impacts our ability to use those areas for any future timber harvesting that might be available and also could impact oil and gas production."

But it's not really the amount of land that causing the controversy. Rather, it's the location.

"They're where we have oil pipelines going through so it prohibits oil development," said Calvert. "It's where other counties are looking at road expansion. It's where we have power lines going through and bridges."

San Augustine County Judge Samye Johnson is spearheading the argument and got state and U.S. legislators involved, drafting a letter requesting a six month extension due to significant scientific discrepancies, but to no avail…the designation goes into effect October 11th.

The counties say they still plan to try and fight the designation through litigation and the court system.

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