The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Pedernales River springs salamander will undergo status reviews to be put on the federal endangered species list.
The Pedernales River springs salamander was discovered in 2019 by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin. They were determined to be a new species that are related to Barton Springs salamanders. These salamanders are located in northwestern Hays, southwestern Travis, and northeastern Blanco counties along the Edwards Plateau region.
After the Mirasol Springs development was proposed on the Roy Creek Canyon, Austin’s Save Our Springs Alliance filed a petition in 2021 to add them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species List. If this petition is fulfilled, the salamanders will receive protections listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
“This is an interesting case because this is still an undescribed species. It is rare for undescribed species to be listed as federally protected,” Benjamin Hutchins, assistant director of the Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center, said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the petition has “substantial information that the petitioned actions may be warranted,” in a press release. If their status is approved to be on the list, federally funded development projects would require a permit to proceed in the area the salamanders are designated in.
“This can take years,” said Hutchins. “The full assessment may result in a negative finding (the species doesn’t need to be listed or there’s insufficient knowledge to make a determination), a positive finding (the species needs to be listed) or they may decide that listing is warranted but precluded (for now) because of higher priorities.”
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Geographic Information System, there are five other endangered salamander species in Hays County alone: the San Marcos salamander, the Texas salamander, the Barton Springs salamander, the Texas blind salamander and the Blanco blind salamander. Salamanders can usually be spotted in the Edwards, Edwards-Trinity and Trinity Aquifers, along with each of their springs, water-filled subterranean spaces and spring-fed creeks.
The presence of salamanders usually corresponds with groundwater quality as they move between surface and subsurface habitats based on dry or wet conditions and/or seasons. Due to recent drought conditions, there has been a low number of salamanders on aquatic surfaces.
“We have a number of closely-related spring salamanders in the eastern Hill Country and Balcones Escarpment. The exact number of species is not agreed on by herpetologists,” said Hutchins. “Populations of these salamanders are isolated from one another in different drainages or spring systems. Over time, that isolation causes genetic divergence between populations.”
Two salamanders currently live in the San Marcos region of the Edwards Aquifer, Spring Lake and the San Marcos River: the San Marcos salamander and the Texas blind salamander. This area is known as a critical habitat, meaning “a particular geographical area that contains all of the physical, chemical and biological attributes needed for the continued success of an endangered plant or animal and that may require special efforts for their management and protection,” according to the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment website.
While Texas is continuously urbanizing, “healthy ecosystems depend on careful and effective land and water management,” according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife. With the protections from the Endangered Species Act, the salamanders and their habitat will be protected, but San Martians can also work towards preserving wildlife and the environment.
“Conserve water and encourage others to do the same. Pick up after your pets. Don’t stack rocks in rivers and springs (those rocks are habitat for salamanders and other species). Get involved in local environmental conservation organizations. Vote for political candidates that support environmental protection, particularly at the local and state levels,” Hutchins said when talking about how individuals can help.
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