2 Central Texas salamander species get federal protection; decision on other 2 postponed

A decision announced Aug. 19 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service places the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders under protection of the Endangered Species Act and designates 4,451 acres for their critical habitats.

The Austin blind salamander is concentrated in areas near Zilker Park in Southwest Austin, and the Jollyville Plateau salamander has habitats in Williamson and northern Travis counties. The listing comes after more than a year of opposition from Williamson County officials who argued the listing would damper development, as the designation of critical habitats impedes construction in the areas until the projects can be reviewed to make sure they do not negatively impact the species.

"One thing that we do know and we are thankful [for is] that [the Jollyville Plateau salamander] is a threatened listing, because it provides additional flexibility to work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife in developing mechanisms and means to provide for preservation and conservation of the species," said Gary Boyd, Williamson County environmental program coordinator.

USFWS is listing the Austin blind salamander as endangered and the Jollyville Plateau salamander as threatened. The service cited concerns on reduced water quantity and quality and disturbance of spring sites that serve as the salamanders' habitats as reasons for the listings. An Aug. 19 news release from USFWS said increased population and development in areas where the Edwards Aquifer flows into the habitats as well as persisting drought conditions have put the species at risk.

"We have carefully evaluated the public comments received on the salamander proposal, and our actions reflect the best available science," said Adam Zerrenner, USFWS Austin Field Office supervisor, in a news release. "The service is committed to continuing to work with the local communities, landowners and others to conserve the salamanders and the Edwards Aquifer. A healthy Edwards Aquifer is important for the continued vitality of the communities as well as the plant and animal species dependent upon it."

Two additional salamanders, the Georgetown and Salado salamanders, received a six-month extension on the final decision of their listing status. The service received comments questioning the available data and studies done on the two salamanders and decided to postpone the final listing in order to receive more scientific information. USFWS has opened a 30-day public hearing period for comments that will end Sept. 19. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/southwest. The service said it expects to make a decision on the status of the remaining two salamanders no later than Feb. 22, 2014.

By Korri Kezar
Korri Kezar graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 with a degree in journalism. She worked for Community Impact Newspaper's Round Rock-Pflugerville-Hutto edition for two years before moving to Dallas. Five years later, she returned to the company to launch Community Impact Newspaper's Keller-Roanoke-Northeast Fort Worth edition, where she covers local government, development, transportation and a variety of other topics. She has also worked at the San Antonio Express-News, Austin-American Statesman and Dallas Business Journal.