By Claire Osborn, Austin American-Statesman Staff
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday it will list the Georgetown salamander and the Salado salamander as threatened species. The salamander is a tiny amphibian that lives in spring waters.
The federal agency also announced it is proposing to adopt an ordinance passed by the city of Georgetown that prohibits new development within 80 meters (about 262 feet) of a salamander site and within 50 meters (about 164 feet) around a spring. Within a secondary buffer zone, up to 300 meters upstream of those areas, limited construction of wastewater lines, parks and houses would be allowed.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife will conduct a 60-day comment period for the public on the Georgetown ordinance before deciding if the federal agency will adopt it. The federal agency has not yet decided on the size of the buffer zones in critical habitat areas – those are the areas that involve projects using federal dollars.
Williamson County officials have said the area would lose millions of dollars in development if the salamanders are listed. The county has spent about $800,000 on lawyers, biologists and consultants studying several salamander species in the area, including the Jollyville Plateau salamander, which was put on the threatened species list last year.
The Georgetown salamander has been found in 15 springs along five tributaries to the San Gabriel River and in two caves in Williamson County, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Its cousin, the Salado salamander, has been seen in four spring sites near Salado and three springs on Salado Creek in Bell County, according to the federal agency.