Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Save Our Springs Alliance, filed a notice of intent Jan. 9 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting emergency listing for the Jollyville Plateau salamander.
In response to the filing, Williamson County commissioners Jan. 31 approved sending letters to the environmental groups as well as Fish and Wildlife voicing the county’s opposition to the listing.
“What we are saying in this letter is that we believe there is no immediate threat to the species that warrants emergency listing, and we oppose this because if they are going to list the species, they need to go through the regular input process,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman said. Birkman is also is president of the Williamson County Conservation Foundation board.
The environmental groups are requesting the emergency listing because “shaft leaks near salamander habitat in connection with the City of Austin's construction of Water Treatment Plant 4, compounded by the current Texas drought, have created a significant risk to the well-being of the salamander,” according to the county’s letter addressed to the environmental groups.
"This tiny salamander, which exists nowhere in the world except Texas, could be driven extinct by the construction," said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a news release. "So this is an emergency. The salamander needs immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act, our most effective law for protecting endangered wildlife from extinction."
Although the environmental groups are protesting the effects of a project in Austin, Birkman said the emergency listing would also impact areas of Williamson County. The salamander exists in springs in the southwestern portion of the county.
Gary Boyd, director of environmental programs with Willilamson County, said USFWS had previously entered into an agreement with environmental organizations to review the listing status of four Central Texas salamander species and, if it determined a species was endangered, the listing could go into effect in summer 2013.
Boyd said an emergency listing would limit local input on how the salamanders should be treated.
The WCCF is 17 months into a five-year study on the Georgetown salamander as a part of its Regional Habitat Conservation Plan. At its January meeting, the foundation authorized $150,000 of the remaining project budget to study that species, which Boyd said will speed up that process. It also authorized $250,000 of new research funds for the Jollyville Plateau salamander. Boyd said a request for proposal for the studies would be going out soon.
“We are going to try and find out what it is that threatens them,” Birkman said. “At this time there is not a lot of research, which is what is really called for under the Endangered Species Act, to be able to say what it is that causes the extinction of the species.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey also said the Jollyville Plateau salamander exists in several preserved areas within the county.
Birkman said the county would contact other local entities to see if they would support the county’s letter.
For more information about the Jollyville Plateau salamander and where it is located, visit the Williamson County Conservation Foundation's website.