Little spider leads to big legal fight in Central Texas

John Yearwood

GEORGETOWN, Texas (Nexstar) — Central Texas rancher John Yearwood filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government last week in what he described as an effort to keep control of his 35-acre property.

Yearwood challenged the constitutionality of federal regulations concerning a tiny cave spider known as the Bone Cave Harvestman, which only exists in Central Texas. The Bone Cave Harvestman is considered an endangered and threatened species under the 1973 United States Endangered Species Act.

“This property has been in the Yearwood family since 1871,” Yearwood said, “and now we’re kind of in limbo about what we can do with the land, if anything at all.”

Yearwood said he lets community organizations and church youth groups camp on his property and use his land for recreational purposes. However, now that the endangered spider was found residing on a portion of his Georgetown property, Yearwood could be prosecuted by the federal government if the endangered spider is disturbed.

“If our client did any activity like letting kids camp on his property that disturbs the habitat of these species,” Robert Henneke, Director for the Center of American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation said, “he could be facing criminal penalties or civil fines for letting kids camp on his land.”

Henneke, who represents Yearwood in the lawsuit, said his client is faced with a “Catch-22” dilemma because of the broad federal regulations.

“Either he can go through a very expensive time consuming process to try to get an endangered species permit to let kids camp on his land, or he can run the risk that there might be something done that would disturb this species,” Henneke said. “Either way, he would be prosecuted.”

“It’s having private property taken basically from our family,” Yearwood said. “The family has paid taxes on this property for 140 years and has used it and been stewards of it for 140 years. And now the federal government comes in and there is a big question on what we can do with our own land or whether we will be prosecuted if we try to do something with it at all. It is kind of a limbo situation.”

Currently, there are 22,000 species in the United States that are regulated by the Endangered Species Act. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas is home to at least 100 of those species that are considered either endangered or threatened.

The U.S Department of Interior was contacted for comment but has not yet responded.

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