The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821
Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs Alliance, (512) 784-3749

Petition Filed to Protect Rare Texas Salamanders From Austin Water Project


The Center for Biological Diversity and Save Our Springs Alliance today filed a formal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide Endangered Species Act protection for a rare Texas salamander, the Jollyville Plateau salamander. Construction of a water-treatment plant in the heart of salamander habitat by the city of Austin poses an urgent threat to the salamander's survival.

"The Jollyville Plateau salamander needs Endangered Species Act protection to have any chance at survival," said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center lawyer focused on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. "And it's running out of time, especially in light of Austin's plans to build a water-treatment plant smack in the middle of its habitat."

In response to a 2005 petition from Save Our Springs Alliance, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2007 that the rare salamander warranted listing as a threatened or endangered species but that such listing was precluded. The agency added the species to its candidate list, which currently includes 250 species, most of which have been waiting decades for protection. The delay has allowed the city of Austin to move forward with construction of a new water-treatment plant in key salamander habitat.

"The city of Austin is plowing ahead with construction of the water-treatment plant despite evidence that the project threatens the Jollyville Plateau salamander," said Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance. "Endangered Species Act protection for the Jollyville Plateau salamander could finally force the city of Austin to consider alternatives that minimize harm to endangered species and native habitats."

A recent genetic study indicates that Jollyville Plateau salamander is actually made up of two distinct populations, one located on the Jollyville Plateau and another located to the west and northwest of the Plateau. The petition filed today seeks protection for both populations of salamander, each of which is individually more imperiled than the whole. Intake and transmission tunnels for the water-treatment plant would run directly through and under habitat for the Plateau population of the salamander.

Concerned about the water-treatment plant's impacts on the salamander and the Plateau population in particular, several scientists have sent the Fish and Wildlife Service a letter advising it of the need for Endangered Species Act protections for the salamander. "We are concerned that drilling and tunneling in and adjacent to Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat poses significant risks to the survival of the species," wrote the scientists. They warned that there is a "significant" risk that construction of the transmission tunnels for the water-treatment plant may dewater critical salamander habitat.

Unlike most salamanders, the Jollyville Plateau salamander retains external gills throughout its life and inhabits springs, spring runs and wet caves. Populations that occur in caves exhibit morphology similar to other cave-dwelling animals, such as reduced eyes, flattened head and loss of pigmentation. The salamander is limited to a small number of drainages both on and off the Jollyville Plateau in Travis and Williamson counties in Texas.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252