Officials celebrate protecting salamander

This Georgetown salamander lives in the springs off of Bootys Trail Park. Federal, county and city officials have been taking steps to preserve the local salamanders and encourage city development. This Georgetown salamander lives in the springs off of Bootys Trail Park. Federal, county and city officials have been taking steps to preserve the local salamanders and encourage city development.[/caption]

Officials from Williamson County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the city of Georgetown gathered Oct. 14 to celebrate conservation efforts of the Georgetown salamander's habitat, while also allowing for residential and commercial development.

Federal, county and city officials praised the agencies' cooperation to protect the salamander species.

In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized county and city efforts in Georgetown to protect water quality, and proposed a special rule that facilitates the continuation of conservation efforts for the Georgetown salamander. The rule enables development activities that my affect the threatened salamander to continue, as long as they comply with the city’s development codes, according to the wildlife service.

Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross said the rule recognizes local regulations and also establishes buffer zones around springs where the salamanders reside.

“We now have a defined set of rules that allow reasonable development and protect water quality, as well as critical habitat for the Georgetown salamander,” he said.

Since Georgetown is once of the fastest growing cities in the nation, he said having a playbook for sustainable development will allow growth in the city continue while also protecting natural resources.

“Today is a day to recognize local government can work with the federal government to come up with innovative solutions,” he said. “We can celebrate different levels of government working together, from the feds, to the county, to the city. It’s a beautiful thing.”

In 2008, Williamson County put together a Regional Habitat Plan that included the Georgetown salamander, said County Commissioner Valerie Covey. The county hired a team with Southwestern University, purchased 145 acres by Twin Springs in Georgetown and began a five-year research project to learn more about the salamanders, she said.

In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service settled a lawsuit with two environmental groups that sped up the potential listing of the salamander on the endangered species list. Covey, who also serves on the Williamson County Conservation Foundation, said the county turned to the community and stepped up efforts to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service come up with solutions.

“I think the best thing that we do in the collaboration is come up with local solutions, and that’s what we’ve done,” she said. “[Commissioner Cynthia Long and I] were down in the weeds, literally, looking for salamanders and trying to figure out how things work.”

Covey said protecting salamanders was linked to water quality in the northern part of the county, and therefore started targeting efforts to the Georgetown salamander. They worked together not only with Georgetown, but with Leander, Cedar Park and Round Rock.

Benjamin Tuggle, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director for Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, said the different agencies were trying to maintain the integrity and uniqueness of the community. In order to do so, he said, they had to strike an appropriate balance between the community and the natural resources.

“It would have been a tragedy if we decided to lose these areas that define how unique this environment is,” he said. “And yet we can still move forward from the standpoint of developing the community and embracing all the good things that are here.”