AUSTIN, Texas— The Center for Biological Diversity and Save Our Springs Alliance today formally notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue the agency for failing to provide emergency protection for a rare Texas salamander, the Jollyville Plateau salamander, threatened by construction of a water-treatment plant. The city of Austin’s project in the heart of salamander habitat poses an urgent threat to the species’ survival. The groups are seeking immediate protections under the Endangered Species Act; today’s 60-day notice is a prerequisite to filing suit.
“The Jollyville Plateau salamander needs immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act to survive,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a newly hired lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity and the world’s first attorney focusing exclusively on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “This rare salamander is running out of time, especially in light of Austin’s plans to build a water 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. Instead, the agency added it to the list of candidates, which currently includes 245 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 and associated transmission tunnels proposed to run directly through key salamander habitat.
“Because of the city’s proposed water-treatment plant and other urban sprawl, the house is on fire and the alarm bells are ringing for the Jollyville Plateau salamander,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “Similar situations are happening all over the world, where more than a third of all amphibians are threatened with extinction and at least a fifth of all reptiles are threatened. That’s why we’ve hired an attorney specifically to work on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service can delay protection of a species by designating listing as precluded. But the agency is required to monitor these species and provide immediate, emergency protections if their survival is threatened. On April 27, the Service received a letter from several scientists who have studied the Jollyville Plateau salamander for years and have grave concerns about the water-treatment plant. “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. Indeed, the drilling of a test well has already resulted in loss of one population of the salamander in an area called Moss Gulley Springs.
“The Jollyville Plateau salamander is faced with imminent extinction,” said Adkins Giese. “The fact that one population has already been lost to drilling demonstrates there is a significant risk to the salamander. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a clear duty to emergency-list the species.”
Scientists recognized the Jollyville Plateau salamander as a distinct species in 2000. Unlike most salamanders, it 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.