Four salamanders in Travis and Williamson counties received an official proposal to be listed on the federal endangered species list, according to an Aug. 21 news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Austin Blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau and Salado salamanders have been the subjects of debate throughout Williamson County as cities, school districts and the Williamson County Commissioners Court have approved resolutions to oppose listing the species as endangered. Many have argued the salamanders' inclusion on the federal list will hinder development around the county.
"It could have a negative impact on the county. We're looking at different options and different ways to deal with the issue," said Valerie Covey, county commissioner and Williamson County Conservation Foundation member, in December.
The WCCF is investigating the habits and habitats of the salamanders, and has allocated approximately $650,000 for research led by Southwestern University Professor Ben Pierce.
During the Aug. 21 Commissioners Court meeting, the county's Environmental Programs Coordinator, Gary Boyd, said the WCCF concluded the research did not support any criteria for listing the species that included imminent danger to habitats; over-utilization of habitat areas for commercial, retail or business purposes; disease or predation; inadequacy of existing protections; and other natural or manmade factors affecting habitats.
However, in the Aug. 21 news release announcing the decision to list the four species, USFWS claimed the salamanders were in immediate threat of extinction because of habitat degradation and water quality issues in area springs and the Edwards Aquifer.
"The Edwards Aquifer is an important water source not only for these four salamander species, but also for those living and working in the area,” Austin Field Office Supervisor Adam Zerrenner said in the release. "Efforts to improve and conserve the water and springs associated with the Edwards Aquifer will help ensure a healthy future for our community and the plants and animals that depend upon the Edwards Aquifer."
As a result, USFWS is proposing nearly 6,000 acres in Williamson and Travis counties be designated as critical habitats for the salamanders. If approved, USFWS claimed there would be no impact on land ownership or private land owner action. However, the designation "may require special management considerations or protection," according to the news release.
A public hearing for input by Williamson County residents is scheduled for Sept. 5 at Wingate by Wyndham, 1209 N. I-35, Round Rock. An informational meeting is planned for 5:30–6:30 p.m., followed by a public input session from 7–8:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.fws.gov/endangered. Information and research done by the county is available at www.wilco.org/salamanders.