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County officially opposes WilCo salamander listing

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Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 2:22 pm

GEORGETOWN –Williamson County officials are calling on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to not list the Georgetown salamander, Jollyville Plateau salamander and Salado Springs salamander as either threatened or endangered until the county’s studies on the salamanders are completed.

The federal department as part of a settlement with two environmental advocacy groups, were expected to take action Wednesday, on a proposed listing decision for the three salamander species, which have habitat ranges in Central Texas and Williamson County.

Federal officials propose to designate 5,983 acres of critical habitat in Travis, Williamson and Bell counties.

The Commissioners Court unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday officially opposing that listing.

“It’s much too early in the process to take any action about these species,” said Precinct One Commissioner, and Chair of the Williamson County Conservation Foundation (WCCF), Lisa Birkman. “We’re in the middle of a five-year study on the Georgetown salamander as part of the County’s Regional Habitat Conservation Plan, which was approved by the Service. We are planning to expand our study efforts to include more studies of the Jollyville Plateau salamander. To not wait until the results from our studies, which of a higher-quality, more systematic and more replicable than those the Service is relying on to make their decisions, is premature. The Service should pay attention to the science and not be pressured into making decisions to fulfill some political agenda.”

The County’s studies and data collection are indicating that not only are salamander populations being found in Williamson County throughout their habitat range, but that they are healthy, flourishing and existing in heavily-developed areas. Data collection shows that water and sediment quality remain good, with no degradation or elevated levels of toxins or harmful residues in known springs.

“It’s a very frustrating situation,” said Williamson County Precinct Three Commissioner Valerie Covey, who is also Vice-Chair of the WCCF. “We negotiated the Habitat Plan with the Service in very good faith. We’re doing everything the Plan requires. We’ve purchased karst features that will benefit the Georgetown salamander and to date have expended over $500,000.00 to fund our studies and get ready to respond to the Service’s proposed listing. The Service even down-listed the priority for the Georgetown salamander from a 2 to an 8, so how can there be any imminent threat to the species warranting these premature listings? We know of several locations where the salamanders are thriving in highly developed areas. The Service is clearly side-stepping what the reality is for these species,” added Commissioner Covey.

The County has established an educational website – www.wilco.org/salamander – to provide the latest information on the Service’s proposed listing decision, scientific findings by the WCCF’s biology consultants and others, and efforts the County has already been taking to protect and preserve salamander species in Williamson County.

Welcome to the discussion.