By Tim Fleischer Editor-in-Chief
Pete Diaz will discuss “The Salado Salamander and Local Aquifer Species” at Barrow Brewing Co., 108 Royal St., at 4 p.m., Sun. July 8 as one of the Summer Lecture Series presented each week.
Diaz graduated from Texas State University in 2010 with his Masters in Aquatic Resources. The title of his thesis was the Diet and Habitat Associations of Eurycea Nana (San Marcos salamander). Pete now works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in San Marcos, TX.
The Salado salamander was listed as Threatened in February 2014 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At the time, USFWS was considering listing four salamanders in central Texas as Endangered. For two years, USFWS further studied the Salado salamander before listing its as Threatened rather than Endangered.
The Salado salamander, a small amphibian found in springs and caves around the Edwards Aquifer in the Salado Creek watershed, was listed as Threatened due to degradation of its habitat and changes in water flow and quality.
“This is a huge win for us (Bell County Coalition),” Bell County Commissioner Tim Brown said in 2014. “We still have a lot of work to do but it will be so much easier without the endangered designation hanging over us.”
“We emphasized the protections that are already in place through Clearwater UWCD’s rules and regulations and we convinced them that there are no imminent threats beyond the immediate environs of the springs there in the Village,” he added.
Dirk Aaron, who is general manager of the UWCD, is scheduled to give a lecture at Barrow on Aug. 4.
The Salado salamander has been found at seven spring sites. Two of these sites (Big Boiling and Li’l Bubbly Springs) are very close together and are likely one population.
At that time, biologists had a difficult time finding the Salado salamander as it retreated into the depths of the Edwards aquifer due to the extended drought. Since then, biologists have found the Salado salamander in the Big Boiling springs.
“Due to their very limited distribution, these salamanders are especially sensitive to stochastic incidences, such as severe and unusual storm events (which can dramatically affect dissolved oxygen levels), catastrophic contaminant spills, and leaks of harmful substances,” the agency further stated in the Feb. 24, 2014 Federal Register.
The Service originally proposed to list the species as endangered in 2012, which means they were considered at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range, but new scientific information received during the comment period on the proposal indicates the species are threatened, meaning they are at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future.
In July 2013, FWS announced that Solana Ranch would be one of the recipients of nearly $32 million in grants to 20 states to help advance their collaborative efforts to conserve America’s rarest species.
The $881,250 grant to Solana Ranch was to provide protection for Salado salamander by improving the health of the land and water that supports these species. This funding allowed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to acquire a conservation easement on a 256-acre tract located on Solana Ranch in Bell County to benefit the Salado salamander.
The acquisition provides protection for the species in three of the seven springs in which it is known to occur.
Acquisition of the Solana Ranch Preserve protects an area of 75 percent of the proposed critical habitat units for this species in the Service’s Southwest Region.
The acquisition will also protect the quality of cave and spring water, minimize ground water pollution, protect groundwater and spring flow, and exclude cattle and feral hogs.
The Georgetown and Salado salamanders are unique to Texas and entirely aquatic, living their entire lives in springs and caves fed by the northern segment of the Edwards Aquifer.
The Salado salamander has been identified in four spring sites near the Village of Salado and three springs farther upstream on Salado Creek in Bell County
Reduced water quality, increased sedimentation, and altered flow regimes are the primary threats to the Salado salamander.
Drought conditions and human population growth also have negatively affected water resources, reducing the quality and quantity of available habitat for the salamander population.