For Immediate Release, February 21, 2014
Contact: Collette L. Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821
Two Central Texas Salamanders Get Endangered Species Act Protection
AUSTIN, Texas— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected the Georgetown and Salado salamanders today under the Endangered Species Act. As with the Jollyville Plateau and Austin blind salamanders protected last year, today’s decision was spurred by a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011 that is expediting federal protection decisions for 757 imperiled species across the country.
“Saving these salamanders will also protect the precious springs that give drinking water and recreation to Texas communities,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center lawyer who works to save imperiled amphibians and reptiles. “These rare salamanders are found nowhere on Earth except central Texas, and right now they’re facing extinction. Endangered Species Act protection will give them a fighting chance.”
The Georgetown and Salado salamanders live in springs in Bell and Williamson counties in central Texas. These fully aquatic animals require clean, well-oxygenated water and are threatened by activities that disturb their surface springs, pollute their water or reduce its flow to their underground aquatic habitats.
Although the Service previously proposed to list the Georgetown and Salado salamanders as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, the agency today instead protected them as “threatened.” The new rule recognizes state and local regulatory actions taken to benefit water quality, including Georgetown’s recently enacted ordinances, but finds that the salamanders still face unaddressed threats to their survival.
“I’m glad these salamanders are finally protected, but disappointed the Fish and Wildlife Service is backtracking on the level of protection,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has been more than 99 percent effective at saving species, but it needs to be utilized to its fullest extent if it is going to save these and other rare species that are the wild heritage of central Texas.”
The salamanders have spent years waiting in line for federal protection. As part of an agreement with the Center, the Service agreed to issue protection decisions for these and two other central Texas salamanders by the end of 2013. In August the Service issued final rules listing the Jollyville Plateau and Austin blind salamanders as “endangered” and designating critical habitat. But the Service delayed its final decision on the Georgetown salamander and Salado salamander until today due to “substantial disagreement” over available data and to consider the city of Georgetown’s final ordinances for water quality and urban development.
A total of 107 imperiled species from around the country have gained Endangered Species Act protection so far in response to the 2011 agreement with the Center, and another 28 have been proposed for protection.
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 groundwater contamination and potentially catastrophic hazardous-materials spills.
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 gold irises. It’s 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. The salamander 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 finalize today’s listing.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.