Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 22, 2016

Contact:  Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 310-4054,
Joan Marshall, Travis Audubon, (512) 300-2473,
Jason Rylander, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3245,

Legal Action Taken to Preserve Protections for Extremely Rare Cave Dweller Near Austin

Developers Seek to Strip Protection, Undermine Endangered Species Act

AUSTIN, Texas— Travis Audubon, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife filed a legal intervention today to preserve Endangered Species Act protections for the Bone Cave harvestman, a rare, spider-like animal found in Travis and Williamson counties and nowhere else on Earth. The legal action comes in response to a lawsuit filed by developers who are arguing not only that the harvestman should be removed from the endangered species list, but that the Endangered Species Act itself is unconstitutional.

“Even though these same arguments have already been rejected by the courts, once again developers are attempting to attack the integrity of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center. “Protecting the lands that endangered species rely on for survival is good for all of us in the long run, so we have to protect our natural heritage from the shortsighted interest of developers.”

The Bone Cave harvestman, an incredibly rare “granddaddy longlegs,” is highly adapted to the limestone caves and karst habitat that is unique to the Texas Hill Country of the Edwards Plateau. In response to threats of harmful development and road construction, in 1985 Travis Audubon petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the harvestman and the native karst habitat it, and several other imperiled species, rely on.

“Protecting native habitats and the imperiled species that depend on them is vital to the ecological balance necessary for healthy, sustainable and habitable communities,” said Joan Marshall, executive director of Travis Audubon. “Ensuring that the Endangered Species Act continues to protect the harvestman and other endangered species is essential to the long-term conservation of these areas.”

“Wildlife conservation is again under attack in the courts,” said Jason Rylander, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “We are defending not only this unique cave species but the very legal foundations that protect wildlife and their habitats for present and future generations.”

The Bone Cave harvestman is a rare, underground invertebrate that is specially adapted to survive in the unique karst habitat of Travis and Williamson counties. Since it is particularly sensitive to humidity levels, and depends on stable temperatures and nutrients that wash or fall in from the surface, its habitat is highly tied to the overlying surface use and conditions. Development and road construction that results in contamination of the water and nutrients that wash into cave systems can have a devastating impact on this endangered species.

This is not the first time efforts have been undertaken to undermine protections for the Bone Cave harvestman; the same claims have already been raised and rejected by federal courts. But property-rights advocates continue to argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacks constitutional authority under the Endangered Species Act to protect species like the harvestman that live only in an individual state. Should this radical argument prevail, it would undermine federal protections for many other imperiled species.   

Travis Audubon, the Center and Defenders have intervened in the case to defend the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to reject a petition to remove the Bone Cave harvestman from the list of endangered species, and to defend the constitutionality of the agency’s authority to protect the harvestman and other species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.

Travis Audubon is an independent chapter of the National Audubon Society and a nonprofit corporation with approximately 1,300 members that works to promote the enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of native habitats and the species that rely on them through land conservation, habitat restoration, environmental education, and conservation advocacy. For more information visit

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