Environmental Protection

Two Salamanders Now Protected by Endangered Species Act

The Georgetown and Salado salamanders, two species primarily located in central Texas, have become guarded endangered species after years of waiting for federal protection.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is protecting the Georgetown and Salado salamanders under the Endangered Species Act. The 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.

The agency today decided to protect the salamanders 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.

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.

The Salado salamander is just 2 inches long and has reduced eyes compared to other spring-dwelling salamanders in north-central Texas. 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.

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. 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 its listing.

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