The United States Fish and Wildlife Service will host two public hearing this week on their proposal to list four local salamander species as endangered. The hearing in Round Rock will be as follows:
September 5, 2012 – Williamson County
Informational meeting – 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Public hearing – 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Wingate by Wyndham Round Rock
1209 N. IH 35 North, Exit 253 at Hwy 79
Round Rock, Texas 78664
I encourage all citizens to join me and many others across the county in attending the meeting to show our opposition to the proposed listing. So far, Williamson County along with the cities of Round Rock, Cedar Park, Georgetown as well as Leander ISD and others have passed resolutions in opposition to the listing. Our US Congressman John R. Carter (R-Round Rock) is also opposed as is US Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Another hearing will be held on Sept. 6th in Travis County.
For more information on why the proposed listing is a bad idea, read the excellent op-ed by Cedar Park Mayor Pro Tem Tony Dale, who is also the Republican nominee for State Representative, Dist. 136 and a former member of the Williamson County Conservation Foundation, of which I am the president. Here's Tony's op-ed:
"If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately you may have noticed articles about various salamanders that are the subject of federal and local attention. One may ask why a creature only 2-to-3- inches long should be in such a spotlight, and why you should care. If you own an average home in a subdivision, an empty lot you want to sell, a ranch, or 1,000 undeveloped acres you may be impacted.
The controversy started in June 2011 when the Obama Administration settled two lawsuits filed by national environmental groups. Those groups petitioned to list an astounding 779 species as endangered. To put that in context the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) currently has 603 animals listed as endangered or threatened. In the settlement the Administration agreed to list over 250 new species. Included in that number are the Jollyville Plateau and Georgetown salamanders. These salamanders appear in springs in Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock and Georgetown.
So how does this impact everyone with a home, business or land? Simply put the likely listing will result in new land use restrictions on private property that may reduce the value of the property. It could also make some land completely undevelopable. Under federal law landowners are not compensated for the loss in value. So if for example a new retail establishment cannot be built, or its planned size is reduced, that means less sales tax revenue to cities. As a result cities will have to rely more on property taxes from single-family homes. Cedar Park leaders have worked hard to diversify the mix of sales tax and property tax to relieve the burden on homeowners. New development rules would also increase the cost building of new schools and roads at a direct expense to taxpayers. Also, less development means fewer job opportunities for Williamson County families. I believe that a strong economy leads to strong families and this federal intervention harms both.
Evidence collected by Williamson County’s scientists shows that humans and salamanders can coexist in a rapidly developing area. It is also important to note that of approximately 90 known locations for the Jollyville salamander more than 80 are already protected. Many of us involved in working on this issue have seen that the USFWS is using data that does not support their likely conclusion that the species is endangered. In 2002, the county created the Williamson County Conservation Foundation (WCCF) to provide for conservation of endangered species in Williamson County while helping to promote responsible development. The Foundation is in its second year of a five-year study, but the federal settlement has short-circuited that work.
As a former board member of the WCCF and a current member of the county task force related to this issue I’m proud of the county’s history of protecting habitat and developing in a responsible way. When you put people at the center of your policies you typically get good results. However, when you fail to use valid science or abuse our legal system, as I believe the national environmental groups have, poor decisions are made. A glaring example of that was reported recently regarding the golden-cheeked warbler. Texas A&M published that the population of warblers in Texas is over 263,000 as opposed to number less than 10,000 when it was listed. This bird was central to battles between environmentalists and developers in the 1990s. As reported in the Austin-American Statesman the “Texas regional wildlife director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview that the species would ‘probably not’ have been listed as endangered in 1990 had the Fish and Wildlife Service had these figures then”.
It is time for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to slow down and let Williamson County complete its study so they do not make the same sort of mistake they made with the golden-cheeked warbler."
For more info on this important issue, visit http://www.wilco.org/salamander.