This week was the deadline for USFWS to decide whether the Salado Salamander and three other Central Texas-area salamanders should be listed and whether critical habitat relied upon by these species should be designated under the Endangered Species Act. USFWS announced a six-month extension of its deadline for the Salado and Georgetown Salamanders, but declared that the other two species (the Austin Blind Salamander and Jollyville Plateau Salamander) should be listed and habitat designated. USFWS cited disagreement among scientists and the need for more time to evaluate data as the reasons for delaying its decision on the Salado and Georgetown Salamanders.

USFWS outlined four topics that require further evaluation: (1) species location and population; (2) water quality and quantity data (i.e., correlation of flow paths, recharge area and development activities to aquifer levels, spring flow and habitat degradation); (3) effectiveness of conservation practices; and (4) how existing regulatory mechanisms protect the species and their habitat. USFWS has expressed concern about disturbance of spring orifices and surrounding sites, run-off, septic systems and other activities that they believe may degrade water quality, restriction of hazardous materials near springs and emergency planning for spills, and groundwater pumping that may lower the aquifer level and spring flow.

The Bell County coalition of stakeholders is pleased that USFWS is taking a harder look at the information and arguments we have made. We are also appreciative of the efforts of our local, state and federal politicians who have listened to our concerns and aggressively lobbied USFWS. But the job is not done. Our coalition has funded scientific studies by Texas A&M and Baylor Universities and relied upon additional research from Clearwater UWCD’s hydrogeological studies. These studies are ongoing. Fortunately, we expect important, relevant information to become available by USFWS’s deadline for additional comment. Specifically, our consultants are assessing recharge areas and subsurface flow paths of the Edwards Aquifer, which may clarify the source of spring flow and how area pumping affects spring flow. Our studies also provide data and analysis of historical trends in local water quality and whether the Salado Salamander might be affected by what USFWS considers may be a concern with water quality. Finally, conservation efforts of well owners and the Clearwater UWCD’s drought management program will be emphasized to USFWS.

The aligned stakeholders continue to work closely to proactively address alleged concerns about the Salado Salamander and its habitat. The stakeholders will timely respond to USFWS’s four sets of issues, and make the additional comment available to the public. We are confident that our research, proactive collaboration among local stakeholders, informed planning, and commitment to implementation of local plans that address USFWS’s concerns will minimize USFWS’s interference and actually result in USFWS’s approval and deference to local management.

Our coalition intends to keep assessing and addressing any impacts to our constituents, and to keep our constituents apprised of how this listing will affect our constituents, and any ongoing communications or coordination with the USFWS related to this listing.

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Tim Brown, Bell County Commissioner
Dirk Aaron, Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District General Manager

*The Group of contributing stake holders in Bell County have funded an effort to study, understand, dispute, interpret and react to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed listing of the Salado Salamander as an endangered species. We disagree with the facts presented in their proposed rules and have taken a proactive role in communicating these issues to the local citizens of Salado and Bell County. This coalition of stakeholders has engaged in a contract with Texas A&M University System’s AgriLife Extension/Research Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and Baylor University Department of Geology to conduct an assessment of the currently available research as well as conduct studies of our own to better understand the species. The team is also advising on how the community can be impacted by such a designation. The economic impacts of such a listing based on the USFWS’s flawed understanding is and can be excessive to the Village Community and Bell County. (Contributing Partners are: Bell County, Village of Salado, Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District, Salado Water Supply Corporation, Jarrell-Schwertner Water Supply Corporation, Hanks Family Ranch, the Texas Association of Builder and the National Association of Homebuilders)