Local Scientists, Conservation Advocates Seek Endangered Status for Pedernales River Springs Salamander
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 2021 CONTACT: Bill Bunch, SOS Alliance (512)784-3749
Read the Petition here
Last Monday a group of Austin area environmental scientists and the conservation group Save Our Springs Alliance filed a formal petition with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Pedernales River springs salamander as “endangered” or “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Filing the formal petition triggers an initial 90 day review period under the Act. If the Service finds the petition presents “substantial information” that the species deserves protection under the ESA, a formal listing process would take place over the next two years.
The small, fully aquatic salamander was only discovered in springs near Travis County’s Hamilton Pool Preserve in 1989. It has yet to be formally described, but genetic and other analysis by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and at U.T. Arlington have confirmed its status as a distinct species.
The salamander has a limited range focused on springs and water-filled, underground spaces in the area where Travis, Hays, and Blanco counties converge near the Hamilton Pool Road crossing of the Pedernales River. The petition documents that the species requires a reliable supply of clear, clean Hill Country limestone waters. It further documents threats to both the quality and quantity of the salamander’s spring habitats.
A recent development proposal, dubbed “Mirasol Springs” by its sponsors, triggered the petition filing. Located across Hamilton Pool Road from Hamilton Pool Preserve, the 1400 acre Mirasol Springs project would place buildings, roads, and an artificial lake directly above and surrounding key salamander springs. Water wells and a diversion from the Pedernales River to serve a proposed commercial-scale poultry coop, hotel, farm, housing, and a proposed U.T. biological field station would draw on already very limited surface and groundwater supplies in the area.
Other planned developments in the area, developments following Mirasol Springs to the area, and increased pumping for weekend homes, rural developments and agricultural operations also threaten the survival of the salamander species.
“Given the Mirasol Springs proposal and the exploding growth of the Austin area, the Pedernales River springs salamander is at grave risk of near-term extinction,” said Crystal Datri, an endangered species biologist and lead author of the petition. “The salamander’s home waters along the Pedernales River corridor above Lake Travis need to be protected, not polluted or pumped dry,” Datri added.
“Thankfully the Travis County parks (Hamilton Pool Preserve and Milton Reimers Ranch) and several conservation easements on private ranches in the area provide substantial protection to fish and wildlife habitats along the river,” said Bill Bunch, Executive Director of Save Our Springs Alliance. “But all of that good work will not protect the salamander’s spring habitats from pumping, pollution and pavement like what is now proposed for the area.”
This area along the Pedernales River is particularly rich in biological and habitat diversity. This is most obvious from the spectacular springs and grottoes at Hamilton Pool Preserve, Westcave Preserve, Deadman’s Hole, and Roy Creek (in photo). Last month the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed listing as “endangered” the Texas fatmucket mussel. The Service’s proposal would also designate the entirety of the Mirasol Springs project’s river frontage as “critical habitat” for the mussel. A water pump placed in the Pedernales River by the Mirasol Springs developer is located within the proposed mussel critical habitat. Other unique species, including the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler, live here as well.
“Now is the time to protect the springs and the unique flora and fauna of the Pedernales River corridor, before it’s too late; with this petition the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a legal mandate to help us do that,” added Datri.