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Fish, Wildlife and the AG BY ROBERT BRYCE BRUCE BABBITT gave Dan Morales what he wanted. Morales sued him anyway. In August, Attorney General Morales threatened to sue U.S. Interior Secretary Babbitt if his agency pursued protection for the golden-cheeked warbler. Twenty-eight days later, Babbitt relented, announcing his agency would cease work on the project. Eight days after that, Morales’ agency filed suit against Babbitt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States . Government, claiming a laundry list of constitutional transgressions and legal violations. Morales’ lawsuit is only one of the more recent acts of political posturing over property rights and endangered species, the two issues that have become the primary prey of this year’s shotguntoting candidates. Politicians from both parties saw the value of the issue when 3,000 angry farmers and ranchers marched to the state Capitol in late August to protest the designation of “critical habitat” for the golden-cheeked warbler. The ranchers charged that the habitat designation would prohibit normal ranching and farming. They were wrong, but no one seemed to be paying attention to the truth, including the politicians. GOP gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush and a covey of other candidates did their best to bash the Fish and Wildlife. Service and every other federal agency in sight. Boy George called the habitat designation an example of government “taking extreme actions, twisting environmental laws beyond their intended purpose and eroding property rights.” Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry said the issue isn’t about birds; it’s about “land control. You’ve got it and the federal government wants to control it.” Gov. Ann Richards said that the Endangered Species Act has “literally robbed people of their financial security.” In his August 24 letter to Babbitt, Morales in the very first sentence said “It is Robert Bryce is a freelance writer and contributing editor of the Austin Chronicle. my understanding that … Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing a proposal to designate 33 Texas counties as a ‘critical habitat’ for the golden-cheeked warbler.” He went on to say “you are hereby placed on formal legal notice of Texas’ intention to sue, in the event of such designation.” Morales threatened to sue over something that wasn’t going to happen. Fish and Wildlife never intended to designate 33 counties as critical habitat. The warbler has only 800,000 acres of habitat in the whole state, spread among 33 counties. The warbler barely has enough habitat to cover one county, much less 33 counties. Morales’ bird-bashing apparently got Babbitt’s attention. Three weeks after Morales’ letter, Babbitt sent a letter to Richards, saying Fish and Wildlife would “cease work” on the critical habitat designation. On September 30, Morales filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Waco. Why file the suit in Waco, a two-hour drive from Austin, when he could have filed it at the federal courthouse in the capital? Critics say Morales did it because the Texas Farm Bureau’s headquarters are in Waco and he wanted to appeal to the Farm Bureau’s constituents. An employee at the AG’s office has another explanation: The federal judges in Austin can’t stand Morales. “[U.S. District Judge James] Nowlin hates Morales’ guts because of the redistricting issue,” said the employee. “[U.S. District Judge] Sam Sparks hates Morales because of the discovery on the Robert Tilton case. Sparks ordered that all DARVYN SPAGNOLLY cases filed in his court by the Attorney General had to be signed by Morales.” The suit alleges that Fish and Wildlife’s interpretation of the harm provision under the Endangered Species Act is “unconstitutionally vague” and that it violates the Fifth Amendment. The complaint, signed by Morales’ special assistant, Javier Aguilar, also says “The mere listing of endangered species by the Fish and Wildlife Service diminishes the property rights of Texas citizens.” The suit requests that the court set aside the critical habitat designations for eight endangered species in Texas and it seeks a suspension of the enforcement of the act in Texas. The suit was immediately denounced by environmentalists around the state. One said, “Morales is trying to gut endangered 8 OCTOBER 28, 1994