SAVING THE JOLLYVILLE PLATEAU SALAMANDER

The two-inch-long, “neotenic” Jollyville Plateau salamander retains gills for its entire life and spends all its time underwater, inhabiting springs, spring runs and wet caves fed by the Edwards Aquifer in central Texas. Research shows that as urban development booms, this salamander’s population declines — and with good reason, since development exposes the sensitive amphibian, its eggs and its invertebrate prey to major water pollution, which is already causing salamander deformities and death. Now the Jollyville Plateau salamander faces the scariest single threat of all: a massive water-treatment plant planned in, and adjacent to, its home.

Just discovered in 2000, this salamander has declined dramatically in population even in the past decade. And in fact, the salamander is likely two species, or at least two distinct populations — a “plateau” population and a “peripheral” population — divided by a major highway. Individually, each unique type of the Jollyville Plateau salamander is even more endangered than the species as it's currently defined, since each population has an even more limited range and smaller numbers.

The Center won a great victory for the Jollyville Plateau salamander in August 2013 when we won this animal — as well as another Texas amphibian, the Austin blind salamander — protection under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, we earned the Jollyville Plateau salamander 4,331 acres of critical habitat.

These wins were the result of our historic sgreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move forward on protecting 757 imperiled species. And there was a long road of litigation and other action preceding the settlement.

In 2010 the Center and the Save Our Springs Alliance filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if it didn’t list the species on an emergency basis, as well as filing a scientific petition to list the species. The salamander has been a “candidate” for Endangered Species Act protection since 2007, after a Save Our Springs Alliance petition and lawsuit. After our 757 species agreement, the Service still failed to give the salamander the emergency protection it needs, so we filed another notice of intent to sue in early 2012. Just months later, the Service proposed the salamander (and three others) for protection.