For Immediate Release, August 21, 2012
Collette L. Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821
Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs Alliance, (512) 784-3749
Four Texas Salamanders Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection
Nearly 6,000 Acres of Protected Habitat Also Planned
AUSTIN, Texas— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect four Texas salamanders under the Endangered Species Act. It also plans to designate nearly 6,000 acres as critical habitat for the rare amphibians — the Jollyville Plateau salamander, Austin blind salamander, Georgetown salamander and Salado salamander. The announcement is part of a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity that expedites federal protection decisions for 757 species across the country.
“Endangered Species Act protection is the best way to save these salamanders — which don’t live anywhere in the world except Texas — from going extinct,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center lawyer who works to save imperiled amphibians and reptiles. “These Texas natives deserve a fighting chance.”
The four fully aquatic salamanders live in springs in Bell, Travis and Williamson counties in central Texas. They require clean, well-oxygenated water and are threatened by activities that pollute or reduce water flow to their aquatic habitats.
“Endangered Species Act protection for the salamanders will also protect the springs that give drinking water and recreation to Texas communities,” said Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance. “These Texas salamanders cannot survive in waterways polluted with pesticides, industrial chemicals and other toxins so they are excellent indicators of the health of the environment.”
The four salamanders have spent years waiting in line for federal protection. In response to litigation from the Center, the Service agreed to issue listing decisions for them by the end of 2012; earlier this year, the Service agreed to expedite the listing proposal in response to the Center’s notice of intent to sue the agency for failing to provide emergency Endangered Species Act protection for the Jollyville Plateau salamander, which is facing an imminent threat from Austin’s controversial new water-treatment project in the heart of its habitat.
Today’s announcement by the Service opens a public-comment period on the proposed listing, with a final decision due in 12 months.
Salado salamander (Bell County): The Salado salamander is just 2 inches long and has reduced eyes compared to other spring-dwelling salamanders in north-central Texas. It is known historically from four springs near Salado, Bell County: Big Boiling Springs, Li’l Bubbly Spring, Lazy Days Fish Farm Spring and Robertson Springs. These springs bubble up through faults in the northern segment of the Edwards Aquifer and associated limestones along Salado Creek. The salamander is extremely rare and has been observed just a few times over the past several decades, despite intensive survey efforts. Although most of Bell County is still considered rural, the area is experiencing rapid human-population growth. The Salado salamander’s restricted range makes it vulnerable to both acute and chronic groundwater contamination and potentially catastrophic hazardous-materials spills.
Austin blind salamander (Travis County): The Austin blind salamander has external, feathery gills, a pronounced extension of the snout, no external eyes and weakly developed tail fins. It occurs in and around Barton Springs in Austin, Texas. These springs are fed by the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which covers roughly 155 square miles from southern Travis County to northern Hays County. The salamander is threatened by degradation of its aquatic habitats from pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers. Another threat to the Austin blind salamander and its ecosystem is low flow conditions in the Edwards Aquifer and at Barton Springs.
Georgetown salamander (Williamson County): The Georgetown salamander is characterized by a broad, relatively short head with three pairs of bright-red gills on each side behind the jaws, a rounded and short snout and large eyes with a gold iris. The Georgetown salamander is known from springs along five tributaries to the San Gabriel River and three caves in Williamson County, Texas. The recharge and contributing zones of the northern segment of the Edwards Aquifer supply the water that feeds these springs. These zones are found in portions of Travis, Williamson, Bell, Burnet, Lampasas, Mills and Hamilton counties. It is threatened by water pollution and low water flows. The Service determined in 2001 that the salamander deserves federal protection; the Georgetown salamander has waited more than a decade for the Service to move forward with today’s listing proposal.
Jollyville Plateau salamander (Travis and Williamson counties): Jollyville Plateau salamanders that occur in spring habitats have large, well-developed eyes, but some cave forms of Jollyville Plateau salamanders exhibit cave-associated morphologies, such as eye reduction, flattening of the head and dullness or loss of color. The salamander’s spring-fed habitat typically occurs in depths of less than one foot of cool, well-oxygenated water. The animal lives in the Jollyville Plateau and Brushy Creek areas of the Edwards Plateau in Travis and Williamson counties, Texas. Scientists have observed significant population declines for the Jollyville Plateau salamander, likely as a result of poor water quality from urban development. The most imminent threat to the salamander is shaft-and-tunnel construction for the city of Austin’s new water-treatment project, being excavated through porous limestone of the northern Edwards Aquifer.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.