U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Update

This week the *Bell County coalition of stakeholders – Bell County, Clearwater UWCD, Salado WSC, Jarrell-Schwertner WSC, and Village of Salado – filed a second round of public comment on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS’s”) proposal to list the Salado Salamander as an endangered species. The Coalition’s filing bolstered its position that measures are already in place in Bell County that protect spring flow and spring habitat of the Salado Salamander. This comment concluded that “[b]ased on studies conducted to date, the stakeholders continue to be of the position that the Salado Salamander does not merit listing and that designation of critical habitat is unnecessary to protect the survivability of the Salado Salamander.” Bell County separately filed a detailed explanation why USFWS had incorrectly classified certain important areas as critical habitat. These public comments can be accessed by clicking the link http://staging.cuwcd.org/other/esa/ to view them on line. Public comments from other stakeholders are also available at the following USFWS links:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R2-ES-2012-0035-0327
http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R2-ES-2013-0001-0001

Earlier this week the Coalition received a report by USFWS titled “Conservation Needs of the Jollyville Plateau, Georgetown, and Salado Salamanders – Technical White Paper (February 2013).” USFWS’s report indicates that the agency intends to list all three salamander species and expects various local and regional conservation efforts. USFWS’s report raises several concerns that are being addressed by the Bell County Coalition and other stakeholders in Bell, Travis and Williamson Counties with the engaged and full support of our state and federal legislators and the Texas Comptroller and her Endangered Species Task Force created by the Texas Legislature. Given USFWS’s August 2013 deadline to make a final decision on the listing, the Coalition and other stakeholders are currently working hard to advocate and protect interests implicated by USFWS’s proposal.

The Bell County Coalition has been committed and continues to develop studies that assess whether there are any realistic impacts to the salamander caused by current activities in Bell County. Based on work to date by the Coalition’s scientists at Texas A&M University and Baylor University, it is apparent that the Bell County spring system and associated recharge areas are unique and that development patterns are different from Travis and Williamson Counties. Based on our conclusions to date of our scientists, it continues to be our position that local Bell County stakeholders have the tools necessary to responsibly address growth and ongoing activities within Bell County without the need for federal oversight or intervention.

Our coalition of stakeholders is actively engaged in this process, and committed to assessing and addressing any impacts to our constituents. We intend to keep our constituents apprised of the conclusions of our studies, and we will most certainly advocate our position with the Service.

* * *

Tim Brown, Bell County Commissioner
Dirk Aaron, Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District General Manager

*The Group of contributing stake holders in Bell County have funded an effort to study, understand, dispute, interpret and react to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed listing of the Salado Salamander as an endangered species. We disagree with the facts presented in their proposed rules and have taken a proactive role in communicating these issues to the local citizens of Salado and Bell County. This coalition of stakeholders has engaged in a contract with Texas A&M University System’s AgriLife Extension/Research Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and Baylor University Department of Geology to conduct an assessment of the currently available research as well as conduct studies of our own to better understand the species. The team is also advising on how the community can be impacted by such a designation. The economic impacts of such a listing based on the USFWS’s flawed understanding is and can be excessive to the Village Community and Bell County. (Contributing Partners are: Bell County, Village of Salado, Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District, Salado Water Supply Corporation, Jarrell-Schwertner Water Supply Corporation, Hanks Family Ranch, the Texas Association of Builder and the National Association of Homebuilders)

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