Ruling On Two Salamanders A Relief To Local Officials

A federal proposal Friday to list two Central Texas salamanders as threatened rather than endangered comes as a relief to local officials, who said an endangered listing would have an economic impact of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

Salado salamander (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department photo by Nate Bendik)

WASHINGTON (February 21, 2014) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Friday announced a proposal to list the Salado and Georgetown salamanders as threatened rather than endangered.

The announcement came as a relief to local officials who said an endangered listing would have an economic impact of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in stymied growth and lost tax revenue.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the economic impact at $29 million over 23 years to protect salamander habitats not only in Williamson and Bell Counties, but also in Travis County, but in March 2013, consultants for Williamson County countered that the impact could top a half a billion dollars.

This is a huge win for us,” Bell County Commissioner Tim Brown said in a statement Friday.

“We still have a lot of work to do but it will be so much easier without the endangered designation hanging over us,” he said.

A coalition of Bell County stakeholders including county officials, the Clearwater Underground Water Control District, the Salado Water Supply Corp., the Jarrell-Schwertner Water Supply Corp. and the Village of Salado, funded a study of the local impact of listing of the Salado salamander.

In August 2013, the Fish And Wildlife Service Wednesday listed the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders under the Endangered Species Act, but delayed the final determination about the Georgetown and Salado salamanders for six months.

“Agency staffers have indicated that they have been impressed by our science-based approach to confronting this issue. We made some compelling arguments that the species should not be listed but those arguments were based on clearly demonstrable facts,” Brown said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is also proposing a special rule for the Georgetown salamander “would allow development activities to continue if they are in compliance with ordinances adopted in December by Williamson County and the City of Georgetown to protect water quality. These ordinances include steps to reduce contamination from spills and establishment of buffer zones around the species' habitat.”

"The service's decision to list these species reflects the best available science and a careful evaluation of the comments received from the public," said Adam Zerrenner, the service's Austin Field Office supervisor.

"We will continue to work with local communities, landowners and others to ensure a healthy Edwards Aquifer for the communities and the species that depend upon it."

The Georgetown and Salado salamanders are unique to Texas and entirely aquatic, living their entire lives in springs and caves fed by the northern segment of the Edwards Aquifer, the service said.

The final rule for the two salamanders will be published on Monday in the Federal Register and will become effective 30 days after that.

A 60-day public comment period on the proposed special rule for the Georgetown salamander begins on Monday as well.

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