Millions will go to researching Texas species

Salamander

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state wants to spend millions in tax payer money to prepare for the next potential animal issue.

The range of the freshwater mussel covers every county in the KXAN viewing area. The spot-tailed earless lizard is also in every county but Bastrop.

The state believes the animals could be considered for federal protection.

If listed, these animals could affect all sorts of construction projects in Travis and Williamson Counties– just like the recent salamander battle.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering whether to list the Georgetown Salamander as endangered. Williamson County officials don’t want it on the list.

“We’ve looked at that and it would be a negative impact to a very growing area,” said Valerie Covey, a Williamson County commissioner.

The Texas comptroller believes when animals get listed as endangered or threatened it can lower property values, limit water and land use, and hit local economies.

According to the comptroller’s office, 120 species in Texas are subject to review under the Endangered Species Act. The three species, which will be the focus of new research, may be found in 190 of Texas’ 254 counties.

Still, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says a listing doesn’t have to stop development.

“Our goal is to work with the developer or the land owner so that a project can move forward, while also providing conservation for the species,” said Leslie Gray, a FWS spokesperson.

The issue in Williamson County could become a familiar one across Texas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to make a decision the by February 22nd about the Georgetown salamander.

“I think it’s important to look and get ahead of the subject,” said Covey. “The Georgetown salamander has been on the candidate list for a number of years and very little was known.”

Researchers could start the studies in the late spring.

Right now, the comptroller’s office is looking for a Texas public university or universities to conduct the research.

The state legislature approved $5 million for research in relation to species listings.