Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 29, 2020


Ryan Shannon, Center for Biological Diversity, (214) 476-8755,
Rebecca Bullis, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0295,
Nicole Netherton, Travis Audubon, (512) 300-2473,

Court Rejects Koch Brothers-funded Group’s Attack on Rare Texas Arachnid

AUSTIN, Texas— The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals today rejected an attack on the Endangered Species Act’s constitutionality brought by a special interest group financed by the Koch brothers.

The lawsuit filed by groups represented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation argued that the Act’s protection of state endemic species like the Bone Cave harvestman, a rare cave-dwelling arachnid that lives near Austin, is unconstitutional. Travis Audubon, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife intervened in this case to protect the harvestman.

The 5th Circuit rejected the claims of the property rights groups, ruling that the challenge was brought too late, decades after the harvestman was listed under the Act.

Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is already evaluating the status of the harvestman in response to the property rights groups’ petition to end its federal protections.

“We’re thrilled that the 5th Circuit again dismissed this frivolous challenge to the Endangered Species Act and that the harvestman remains protected,” said Ryan Shannon, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hopefully these misguided, Koch brother-funded policy groups will get the message and stop their cynical attacks against a law supported by the vast majority of Americans.”

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

“Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act to protect all species in the web of life, big or small,” said Jason Rylander, senior counsel for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fifth Circuit’s decision to dismiss another groundless challenge to the constitutionality of this highly successful conservation law was correct and as a result, the Bone Cave harvestman will continue to have much needed protection.”

This is not the first time efforts have been undertaken to undermine protections for the Bone Cave harvestman. The same claims in today’s case were raised and rejected by the 5th Circuit in the early 2000s.

But property rights advocates continued to argue that the 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. If this argument had prevailed, it would have undermined federal protections for more than 70% of the species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

“This decision is not only a win for the harvestman, but a win for biodiversity in Central Texas,” said Nicole Netherton, executive director for Travis Audubon. “We’re thrilled that these protections will continue to be upheld in support of our unique ecosystem and its fascinating inhabitants.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 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 over 1.8 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 @Defenders.

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

center locations