[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 161 (Tuesday, August 20, 2013)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 51277-51326]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-19715]



[[Page 51277]]

Vol. 78

Tuesday,

No. 161

August 20, 2013

Part II





Department of the Interior





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Fish and Wildlife Service





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50 CFR Part 17





Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of 
Endangered Species Status for the Austin Blind Salamander and 
Threatened Species Status for the Jollyville Plateau Salamander 
Throughout Their Ranges; Final Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 161 / Tuesday, August 20, 2013 / 
Rules and Regulations

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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2012-0035; 4500030113]
RIN 1018-AY22


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of 
Endangered Species Status for the Austin Blind Salamander and 
Threatened Species Status for the Jollyville Plateau Salamander 
Throughout Their Ranges

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine 
endangered species status for the Austin blind salamander (Eurycea 
waterlooensis) and threatened species status for Jollyville Plateau 
salamander (Eurycea tonkawae) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(Act), as amended. The effect of this regulation is to conserve these 
salamander species and their habitats under the Act. This final rule 
implements the Federal protections provided by the Act for these 
species.

DATES: This rule becomes effective September 19, 2013.

ADDRESSES: This final rule is available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov and http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas/. 
Comments and materials received, as well as supporting documentation 
used in preparing this final rule is available for public inspection, 
by appointment, during normal business hours, at U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Austin Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Adam Zerrenner, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Austin Ecological Services Field Office, 
10711 Burnet Rd., Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758; by telephone 512-490-
0057; or by facsimile 512-490-0974. Persons who use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, a species may warrant 
protection through listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range. Listing a species as an 
endangered or threatened species can only be completed by issuing a 
rule.
    This rule lists the Austin blind salamander as an endangered 
species and the Jollyville Plateau salamander as a threatened species 
under the Act.
    The basis for our action. Under the Act, we can determine that a 
species is an endangered or threatened species based on any of five 
factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) Overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. We have determined that the Austin blind 
salamander is an endangered species and the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander is a threatened species under the Act due to threats faced 
by the species both now and in the foreseeable future from Factors A, 
D, and E.
    Peer review and public comment. We sought comments from independent 
specialists to ensure that our designation is based on scientifically 
sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We invited these peer reviewers 
to comment on our listing proposal. We also considered all comments and 
information received during the comment period.

Background

Previous Federal Action

    The Austin blind salamander was included in nine Candidate Notices 
of Review (67 FR 40657, June 13, 2002; 69 FR 24876, May 4, 2004; 70 FR 
24870, May 11, 2005; 71 FR 53756, September 12, 2006; 72 FR 69034, 
December 6, 2007; 73 FR 75176, December 10, 2008; 74 FR 57804, November 
9, 2009; 75 FR 69222, November 10, 2010; 76 FR 66370, October 26, 
2011). The listing priority number has remained at 2 throughout the 
reviews, indicating that threats to the species were both imminent and 
high in impact. In addition, on May 11, 2004, the Service received a 
petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to list 225 species 
we previously had identified as candidates for listing in accordance 
with section 4 of the Act, including the Austin blind salamander.
    The Jollyville Plateau salamander was petitioned to be listed as an 
endangered species on June 13, 2005, by Save Our Springs Alliance. 
Action on this petition was precluded by court orders and settlement 
agreements for other listing actions until 2006. On February 13, 2007, 
we published a 90-day petition finding (72 FR 6699) in which we 
concluded that the petition presented substantial information 
indicating that listing may be warranted. On December 13, 2007, we 
published the 12-month finding (72 FR 71040) on the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander, which concluded that listing was warranted, but precluded 
by higher priority actions. The Jollyville Plateau salamander was 
subsequently included in all of our annual Candidate Notices of Review 
(73 FR 75176, December 10, 2008; 74 FR 57804, November 9, 2009; 75 FR 
69222, November 10, 2010; 76 FR 66370, October 26, 2011). Throughout 
the four reviews, the listing priority number has remained at 8, 
indicating that threats to the species were imminent, but moderate to 
low in impact. On September 30, 2010, the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
was petitioned to be emergency listed by Save Our Springs Alliance and 
Center for Biological Diversity. We issued a petition response letter 
to Save Our Springs Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity on 
December 1, 2011, which stated that emergency listing a species is not 
a petitionable action under the Administrative Procedure Act or the 
Act; therefore, we treat a petition requesting emergency listing solely 
as a petition to list a species under the Act.
    On August 22, 2012, we published a proposed rule to list as 
endangered and designate critical habitat for the Austin blind 
salamander, Georgetown salamander (Eurycea naufragia), Jollyville 
Plateau salamander, and Salado salamander (Eurycea chisholmensis) (77 
FR 50768). That proposal had a 60-day comment period, ending October 
22, 2012. We held a public meeting and hearing in Round Rock, Texas, on 
September 5, 2012, and a second public meeting and hearing in Austin, 
Texas, on September 6, 2012. On January 25, 2013, we reopened the 
public comment period on the August 22, 2012, proposed listing and 
critical habitat designation; announced the availability of a draft 
economic analysis; and an amended required determinations section of 
the proposal (78 FR 9876).
    Section 4(b)(6) of the Act and its implementing regulation, 50 CFR 
424.17(a), requires that we take one of three actions within 1 year of 
a proposed listing: (1) Finalize the proposed listing; (2) withdraw the 
proposed listing; or (3) extend the final determination by not more 
than 6 months, if scientists knowledgeable about the species 
substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency

[[Page 51279]]

or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination, for 
the purposes of soliciting additional data.
    The public comments we have received indicate substantial 
disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available 
data that is relevant to our determination of the proposed listing of 
the Georgetown and Salado salamanders. Therefore, in consideration of 
these disagreements, we are publishing a 6-month extension of final 
determination for the Georgetown and Salado salamanders elsewhere in 
today's Federal Register. With this 6-month extension, we will make a 
final determination on the proposed rule for the Georgetown and Salado 
salamanders no later than February 22, 2014.
    On the other hand, more research has been conducted, and, 
therefore, more is known about the life history, population trends, and 
threats to the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. 
Although there may be some disagreement among scientists knowledgeable 
about the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders, the 
disagreement is not substantial enough to extend the final 
determination for these species. Therefore, this rule constitutes our 
final determination to list the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders as an endangered and threatened species, respectively.

Species Information

Taxonomy
    The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders are neotenic 
(do not transform into a terrestrial form) members of the family 
Plethodontidae. Plethodontid salamanders comprise the largest family of 
salamanders within the Order Caudata, and are characterized by an 
absence of lungs (Petranka 1998, pp. 157-158). The Jollyville Plateau 
salamander has very similar external morphology. Because of this, the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander was previously believed to be the same 
species as the Georgetown and Salado salamanders; however, molecular 
evidence strongly supports that there is a high level of divergence 
between the three groups (Chippindale et al. 2000, pp. 15-16). Based on 
our review of these differences, and taking into account the view 
expressed in peer reviews by taxonomists, we believe that the currently 
available evidence is sufficient for recognizing these salamanders as 
separate species.
Morphological Characteristics
    As neotenic salamanders, they retain external feathery gills and 
inhabit aquatic habitats (springs, spring-runs, wet caves, and 
groundwater) throughout their lives (Chippindale et al. 2000, p. 1). In 
other words, the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders are 
aquatic and respire through gills and permeable skin (Duellman and 
Trueb 1986, p. 217). Also, adult salamanders of these species are about 
2 inches (in) (5 centimeters (cm)) long (Chippindale et al. 2000, pp. 
32-42; Hillis et al. 2001, p. 268).
Habitat
    Each species inhabits water of high quality with a narrow range of 
conditions (for example, temperature, pH, and alkalinity) maintained by 
groundwater from various sources. Both the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders depend on water in sufficient quantity and quality 
to meet their life-history requirements for survival, growth, and 
reproduction. Much of this water is sourced from the Edwards Aquifer, 
which is a karst aquifer characterized by open chambers such as caves, 
fractures, and other cavities that were formed either directly or 
indirectly by dissolution of subsurface rock formations. Water for the 
salamanders is provided by infiltration of surface water through the 
soil or recharge features (caves, faults, fractures, sinkholes, or 
other open cavities) into the Edwards Aquifer, which discharges from 
springs as groundwater (Schram 1995, p. 91). In addition, some 
Jollyville Plateau salamander populations rely on water from other 
sources. For instance, springs, such as Rieblin Spring, may discharge 
from the Walnut formation, and some, such as Pit Spring, may discharge 
from the Glen Rose formation (part of the Trinity Aquifer) (Johns 2012, 
COA, pers. comm.; Johnson et al. 2012, pp. 1, 3, 46-53, 82). Other 
springs, such as Lanier Spring, appear to have alluvial aquifer sources 
(derived from water-bearing soil or sediments usually adjacent to 
streams) (Johns 2012, pers. comm.).
    The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders spend varying 
portions of their life within their surface habitats (the wetted top 
layer of substrate in or near spring openings and pools as well as 
spring runs) and subsurface habitats (within caves or other underground 
areas of the underlying groundwater source). Although surface and 
subsurface habitats are often discussed separately within this final 
rule, it is important to note the interconnectedness of these areas. 
Subsurface habitat does not necessarily refer to an expansive cave 
underground. Rather, it may be described as the rock matrix below the 
stream bed. As such, subsurface habitats are impacted by the same 
threats that impact surface habitat, as the two exist as a continuum 
(Bendik 2012, COA, pers. comm.).
    Salamanders move an unknown depth into interstitial spaces (empty 
voids between rocks) within the spring or streambed substrate that 
provide foraging habitat and protection from predators and drought 
conditions (Cole 1995, p. 24; Pierce and Wall 2011, pp. 16-17). They 
may also use deeper passages of the aquifer that connect to the spring 
opening (Dries 2011, COA, pers. comm.). This behavior makes it 
difficult to accurately estimate population sizes, as only salamanders 
on the surface can be regularly monitored. However, techniques have 
been developed for marking individual salamanders, which allows for 
better estimating population numbers using ``mark and recapture'' data 
analysis techniques. These techniques have been used by the City of 
Austin (COA) on the Jollyville Plateau salamander (Bendik et al. 2013, 
pp. 2-7).
Range
    The habitat of the Austin blind salamander occurs in the Barton 
Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, while the habitats of the three 
other species occur in the Northern Segment of the Edwards Aquifer 
(although some reside in spring locations with different groundwater 
sources, as explained above). The recharge and contributing zones of 
these segments of the Edwards Aquifer are found in portions of Travis, 
Williamson, Blanco, Bell, Burnet, Lampasas, Mills, Hays, Coryell, and 
Hamilton Counties, Texas (Jones 2003, p. 3; Mahler et al. 2006).
Diet
    A stomach content analysis by the COA demonstrated that the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander preys on varying proportions of aquatic 
invertebrates, such as ostracods, copepods, mayfly larvae, fly larvae, 
snails, water mites, aquatic beetles, and stone fly larvae, depending 
on the location of the site (Bendik 2011b, pers. comm.). The feces of 
one wild-caught Austin blind salamander contained amphipods, ostracods, 
copepods, and plant material (Hillis et al. 2001, p. 273). Gillespie 
(2013, pp. 5-9) also found that the diet of the closely related Barton 
Springs salamanders consisted primarily of planarians or chironomids 
(flatworms or nonbiting midge flies) depending on which was more 
abundant and amphipods when planarians and chironomids were rare.

[[Page 51280]]

Predation
    The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders also share 
similar predators, which include centrarchid fish (carnivorous 
freshwater fish belonging to the sunfish family), crayfish (Cambarus 
sp.), and large aquatic insects (Pierce and Wall 2011, pp. 18-20; 
Bowles et al. 2006, p. 117; Cole 1995, p. 26).
Reproduction
    The detection of juveniles in all seasons suggests that 
reproduction occur year-round (Bendik 2011a, p. 26; Hillis et al. 2001, 
p. 273). However, juvenile abundance of Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
typically increases in spring and summer, indicating that there may be 
relatively more reproduction occurring in winter and early spring 
compared to other seasons (Bowles et al. 2006, p. 116; Pierce 2012, pp. 
10-11, 18, 20). Because eggs are very rarely found on the surface, 
these salamanders likely deposit their eggs underground for protection 
(O'Donnell et al. 2005, p. 18).
Population Connectivity
    More study is needed to determine the nature and extent of the 
dispersal capabilities of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders. It has been suggested that they may be able to travel some 
distance through subsurface aquifer conduits. For example, it has been 
thought that Austin blind salamander can occur underground throughout 
the entire Barton Springs complex (Dries 2011, COA, pers. comm.). The 
spring habitats used by salamanders of the Barton Springs complex are 
not connected on the surface, so the Austin blind salamander population 
could extend a horizontal distance of at least 984 feet (ft) (300 
meters (m)) underground, as this is the approximate distance between 
the farthest two outlets within the Barton Springs complex known to be 
occupied by the species. However, a mark-and-recapture study failed to 
document the movement of endangered Barton Springs salamanders (Eurycea 
sosorum) between any of the springs in the Barton Springs complex 
(Dries 2012, COA, pers. comm.). This could indicate that individual 
salamanders are not moving the distances between spring openings. 
Alternatively, this could mean that the study simply failed to capture 
the movement of salamanders. This study has only recently begun and is 
relatively small in scope.
    Due to the similar life history of the Austin blind salamander to 
the other three Eurycea species considered here, it is plausible that 
populations of these species could also extend 984 ft (300 m) through 
subterranean habitat. However, subsurface movement is likely to be 
limited by the highly dissected nature of the aquifer system, where 
spring sites can be separated from other spring sites by large canyons 
or other physical barriers to movement. Surface movement is similarly 
inhibited by geologic, hydrologic, physical, and biological barriers 
(for example, predatory fish commonly found in impoundments along 
urbanized tributaries (Bendik 2012, COA, pers. comm.). Dye-trace 
studies have demonstrated that some Jollyville Plateau salamander sites 
located miles apart are connected hydrologically (Whitewater Cave and 
Hideaway Cave) (Hauwert and Warton 1997, pp. 12-13), but it remains 
unclear if salamanders are travelling between those sites. In 
conclusion, some data indicate that populations could be connected 
through subterranean water-filled spaces, although we are unaware of 
any information available on the frequency of movements and the actual 
nature of connectivity among populations.
Population Persistence
    A population's persistence (ability to survive and avoid 
extirpation) is influenced by a population's demographic factors (such 
as survival and reproductive rates) as well as its environment. The 
population needs of the central Texas salamander species are the 
factors that provide for a high probability of population persistence 
over the long term at a given site (for example, low degree of threats 
and high survival and reproduction rates). We are unaware of detailed 
studies that describe all of the demographic factors that could affect 
the population persistence of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders; however, we have assessed their probability of persistence 
by evaluating environmental factors (threats to their surface habitats) 
and what we know about the number of salamanders that occur at each 
site.
    To estimate the probability of persistence of each population 
involves considering the predictable responses of the population to 
various environmental factors (such as the amount of food available or 
the presence of a toxic substance), as well as the stochasticity. 
Stochasticity refers to the random, chance, or probabilistic nature of 
the demographic and environmental processes (Van Dyke 2008, pp. 217-
218). Generally, the larger the population, the more likely it is to 
survive stochastic events in both demographic and environmental factors 
(Van Dyke 2008, p. 217). Conversely, the smaller the population, the 
higher are its chances of extirpation when experiencing this 
demographic and environmental stochasticity.
Rangewide Needs
    We used the conservation principles of redundancy, representation, 
and resiliency (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 307, 309-310) to better 
inform our view of what contributes to these species' probability of 
persistence and how best to conserve them. ``Resiliency'' is the 
ability of a species to persist through severe hardships or stochastic 
events (Tear et al. 2005, p. 841). ``Redundancy'' means a sufficient 
number of populations to provide a margin of safety to reduce the risk 
of losing a species or certain representation (variation) within a 
species, particularly from catastrophic or other events. 
``Representation'' means conserving ``some of everything'' with regard 
to genetic and ecological diversity to allow for future adaptation and 
maintenance of evolutionary potential. Representation can be measured 
through the breadth of genetic diversity within and among populations 
and ecological diversity (also called environmental variation or 
diversity) occupied by populations across the species' range.
    A variety of factors contribute to a species' resiliency. These can 
include how sensitive the species is to disturbances or stressors in 
its environment, how often they reproduce and how many young they have, 
how specific or narrow their habitat needs are. A species' resiliency 
can also be affected by the resiliency of individual populations and 
the number of populations and their distribution across the landscape. 
Protecting multiple populations and variation of a species across its 
range may contribute to its resiliency, especially if some populations 
or habitats are more susceptible or better adapted to certain threats 
than others (Service and NOAA 2011, p. 76994). The ability of 
individuals from populations to disperse and recolonize an area that 
has been extirpated may also influence their resiliency. As population 
size and habitat quality increase, the population's ability to persist 
through periodic hardships also increases.
    A minimal level of redundancy is essential for long-term viability 
(Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 307, 309-310; Groves et al. 2002, p. 506). 
This provides a margin of safety for a species to withstand 
catastrophic events (Service and NOAA 2011, p. 76994) by

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decreasing the chance of any one event affecting the entire species.
    Representation and the adaptive capabilities (Service and NOAA 
2011, p. 76994) of each of the central Texas salamander species should 
also be conserved. Because a species' genetic makeup is shaped through 
natural selection by the environments it has experienced (Shaffer and 
Stein 2000, p. 308), populations should be protected in the array of 
different environments in which the salamanders occur (surface and 
subsurface) as a strategy to ensure genetic representation, adaptive 
capability, and conservation of the species.
    To increase the probability of persistence of each species, 
populations of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
should be conserved in a manner that ensures their variation and 
representation. This result can be achieved by conserving salamander 
populations in a diversity of environments (throughout their ranges), 
including: (1) Both spring and cave locations, (2) habitats with 
groundwater sources from various aquifers and geologic formations, 
including the Edwards and Trinity Aquifers and the Edwards, Walnut, and 
Glen Rose formations, and (3) at sites with different hydrogeological 
characteristics, including sites where water flows come from artesian 
pressure, a perched aquifer, or resurgence through alluvial deposits 
(for example, artesian springs, Edwards and Edwards/Walnut headwater 
springs, and Bull Creek alluvial resurgence areas).
    Information for Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders is 
discussed separately for each species in more detail below.
Austin Blind Salamander
    The Austin blind salamander has a pronounced extension of the 
snout, no external eyes, and weakly developed tail fins. In general 
appearance and coloration, the Austin blind salamander is more similar 
to the Texas blind salamander (Eurycea rathbuni) that occurs in the 
Southern Segment of the Edwards Aquifer than its sympatric (occurring 
within the same range) species, the Barton Springs salamander. The 
Austin blind salamander has a reflective, lightly pigmented skin with a 
pearly white or lavender appearance (Hillis et al. 2001, p. 271). 
Before the Austin blind salamander was formally described, juvenile 
salamanders were sighted occasionally in Barton Springs, and thought to 
be a variation of the Barton Springs salamander. It was not until 2001 
that enough specimens were available to formally describe these 
juveniles as a separate species using morphological and genetic 
characteristics (Hillis et al. 2001, p. 267). Given the reduced eye 
structure of the Austin blind salamander, and the fact that it is 
rarely seen at the water's surface (Hillis et al. 2001, p. 267), this 
salamander is thought to be more subterranean than the primarily 
surface-dwelling Barton Springs salamander.
    The Austin blind salamander occurs in Barton Springs in Austin, 
Texas. These springs are fed by the Barton Springs Segment of the 
Edwards Aquifer. This segment covers roughly 155 square miles (mi) (401 
square kilometers (km)) from southern Travis County to northern Hays 
County, Texas (Smith and Hunt 2004, p. 7). It has a storage capacity of 
more than 300,000 acre-feet of water. The contributing zone for the 
Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer that supplies water to 
the salamander's spring habitat extends into Travis, Blanco, and Hays 
Counties, Texas (Ross 2011, p. 3). Under drought conditions, Barton 
Springs (particularly Sunken Garden/Old Mill Springs) also receives 
some recharge from the Blanco River (Johnson et al. 2012, p. 82), whose 
waters originate from the Trinity Aquifer.
    The Austin blind salamander is found in three of the four Barton 
Springs outlets in the COA's Zilker Park, Travis County, Texas: 
Parthenia (Main) Springs, Eliza Springs, and Sunken Garden (Old Mill or 
Zenobia) Springs where the Barton Springs salamander also occurs (Dries 
2012, p. 4). Parthenia Springs provides water for the Barton Springs 
Pool, which is operated by the COA as a public swimming pool. These 
spring sites have been significantly modified for human use. The area 
around Parthenia Springs was impounded in the late 1920s to create 
Barton Springs Pool. Flows from Eliza and Sunken Garden Springs are 
also retained by concrete structures, forming small pools on either 
side of Barton Springs Pool (COA 1998, p. 6; Service 2005, pp. 1.6-25). 
The Austin blind salamander has not been observed at the fourth Barton 
Springs outlet, known as Upper Barton Springs (Hillis et al. 2001, p. 
273; Dries 2012, p. 4). Upper Barton Springs flow only intermittently 
(and can cease flowing for weeks or months at a time) (Dries 2012, p. 
4). We are unaware of any information that suggests Main, Eliza, or 
Sunken Garden Springs have ever stopped flowing.
    From January 1998 to December 2000, there were only 17 documented 
observations of the Austin blind salamander. During this same 
timeframe, 1,518 Barton Springs salamander observations were made 
(Hillis et al. 2001, p. 273). The abundance of Austin blind salamanders 
increased slightly from 2002 to 2006, but fewer observations have been 
made in more recent years (2009 to 2010) (COA 2011a, pp. 51-52). In 
fact, during an 11-month period of drought conditions from 2008 to 
2009, neither the Austin blind salamander nor the Barton Springs 
salamander was seen at all (Dries 2012, p. 17), despite almost monthly 
survey attempts (Dries 2012, p. 7). When they are observed, Austin 
blind salamanders occur in relatively low numbers (COA 2011a, pp. 51-
52; Dries 2012, p. 4) within the surface habitat. Although the 
technology to mark salamanders for individual recognition has recently 
been developed (Bendik et al. 2013, p. 7), population estimates for 
this species have not been undertaken. However, population estimates 
are possible for aquifer-dwelling species using genetic techniques, and 
one such study is planned for the Austin blind salamander in the near 
future (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) 2011, p. 11).
Jollyville Plateau Salamander
    Surface-dwelling populations of Jollyville Plateau salamanders have 
large, well-developed eyes; wide, yellowish heads; blunt, rounded 
snouts; dark greenish-brown bodies; and bright yellowish-orange tails 
(Chippindale et al. 2000, pp. 33-34). Some cave forms of Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders, which are also entirely aquatic, exhibit cave-
associated morphologies, such as eye reduction, flattening of the head, 
and dullness or loss of color (Chippindale et al. 2000, p. 37). Genetic 
analysis suggests a taxonomic split within this species that appears to 
correspond to major geologic and topographic features of the region 
(Chippindale 2010, p. 2). Chippindale (2010, pp. 5, 8) concluded that 
the Jollyville Plateau salamander exhibits a strong genetic separation 
between two lineages within the species: A ``Plateau'' clade that 
occurs in the Bull Creek, Walnut Creek, Shoal Creek, Brushy Creek, 
South Brushy Creek, and southeastern Lake Travis drainages; and a 
``peripheral'' clade that occurs in the Buttercup Creek and northern 
Lake Travis drainages (Chippindale 2010, pp. 5-8). The study also 
suggests this genetic separation may actually represent two species 
(Chippindale 2010, pp. 5, 8). However, a formal, peer-reviewed 
description of the two possible species has not been published. Because 
this split has not been recognized by the scientific community, we do 
not recognize a

[[Page 51282]]

separation of the Jollyville Plateau salamander into two species.
    The Jollyville Plateau salamander occurs in the Jollyville Plateau 
and Brushy Creek areas of the Edwards Plateau in northern Travis and 
southern Williamson Counties, Texas (Chippindale et al. 2000, pp. 35-
36; Bowles et al. 2006, p. 112; Sweet 1982, p. 433). Upon 
classification as a species, Jollyville Plateau salamanders were known 
from Brushy Creek and, within the Jollyville Plateau, from Bull Creek, 
Cypress Creek, Long Hollow Creek, Shoal Creek, and Walnut Creek 
drainages (Chippindale et al. 2000, p. 36). Since it was described, the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander has also been documented within the Lake 
Creek drainage (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 1). Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders are known from 1 cave in the Cypress Creek drainage and 15 
caves in the Buttercup Creek cave system in the Brushy Creek drainage 
(Chippindale et al. 2000, p. 49; Russell 1993, p. 21; Service 1999, p. 
6; HNTB 2005, p. 60). There are 106 known surface sites for the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander.
    The Jollyville Plateau salamander's spring-fed habitat is typically 
characterized by a depth of less than 1 ft (0.3 m) of cool, well 
oxygenated water (COA 2001, p. 128; Bowles et al. 2006, p. 118) 
supplied by the underlying Northern Segment of the Edwards Aquifer 
(Cole 1995, p. 33), the Trinity Aquifer (Johns 2012, COA, pers. comm.), 
or local alluvial sources (Johns 2012, COA, pers. comm.). The main 
aquifer that feeds this salamander's habitat is generally small, 
shallow, and localized (Chippindale et al. 2000; p. 36; Cole 1995, p. 
26). Jollyville Plateau salamanders are typically found near springs or 
seep outflows and likely require constant temperatures (Sweet 1982, pp. 
433-434; Bowles et al. 2006, p. 117). Salamander densities are higher 
in pools and riffles and in areas with rubble, cobble, or boulder 
substrates rather than on solid bedrock (COA 2001, p. 128; Bowles et 
al. 2006, pp. 114-116). Surface-dwelling Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
also occur in subsurface habitat within the underground aquifer (COA 
2001, p. 65; Bowles et al. 2006, p. 118).
    Some Jollyville Plateau salamander populations have likely 
experienced decreases in abundance in recent years. Survey data 
collected by COA staff indicate that four of the nine sites that were 
regularly monitored by the COA between December 1996 and January 2007 
had statistically significant declines in salamander abundance over 10 
years (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 4). The average number of salamanders 
counted at each of these 4 sites declined from 27 salamanders counted 
during surveys from 1996 to 1999 to 4 salamanders counted during 
surveys from 2004 to 2007. In 2007, monthly mark-recapture surveys were 
conducted in concert with surface counts at three sites in the Bull 
Creek watershed (Lanier Spring, Lower Rieblin, and Wheless Spring) over 
a 6- to 8-month period to obtain surface population size estimates and 
detection probabilities for each site (O'Donnell et al. 2008, p. 11). 
Using these estimation techniques, surface population estimates at 
Lanier Spring varied from 94 to 249, surface population estimates at 
the Lower Rieblin site varied from 78 to 126, and surface population 
estimates at Wheless Spring varied from 187 to 1,024 (O'Donnell et al. 
2008, pp. 44-45). These numbers remained fairly consistent in more 
recent population estimates for the three sites (Bendik 2011a, p. 22). 
However, Bendik (2011a, pp. 5, 12-24, 26, 27) reported statistically 
significant declines in Jollyville Plateau salamander counts over a 13-
year period (1996-2010) at six monitored sites with high impervious 
cover (18 to 46 percent) compared to two sites with lower (less than 1 
percent) impervious cover. These results are consistent with Bowles et 
al. (2006, p. 111), who found lower densities of Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders at urbanized sites. Based on the best available 
information, these counts likely reflect changes in the salamander 
populations at these sites.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    We requested comments from the public on the proposed designation 
of critical habitat for the Austin blind salamander and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders during two comment periods. The first comment 
period associated with the publication of the proposed rule (77 FR 
50768) opened on August 22, 2012, and closed on October 22, 2012, 
during which we held public meetings and hearings on September 5 and 6, 
2012, in Round Rock and Austin, Texas, respectively. We reopened the 
comment period on the proposed listing rule from January 25, 2013, to 
March 11, 2013 (78 FR 5385). We also contacted appropriate Federal, 
State, and local agencies; scientific organizations; and other 
interested parties and invited them to comment on the proposed rule and 
draft economic analysis during these comment periods.
    We received a total of approximately 416 comments during the open 
comment period for the proposed listing, proposed critical habitat, and 
associated documents. All substantive information provided during the 
comment periods has been incorporated directly into the final listing 
rule for the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders and is 
addressed below. Comments from peer reviewers and State agencies are 
grouped separately below. Comments received are grouped into general 
issues specifically relating to the proposed listing for each 
salamander species. Beyond the comments addressed below, several 
commenters submitted additional reports and references for our 
consideration, which were reviewed and incorporated into this critical 
habitat final rule as appropriate.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our peer review policy published on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34270), we solicited expert opinions from 22 knowledgeable 
individuals with scientific expertise with the hydrology, taxonomy, and 
ecology that is important to these salamander species. The focus of the 
taxonomists was to review the proposed rule in light of an unpublished 
report by Forstner (2012) that questioned the taxonomic validity of the 
Austin blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and Salado salamanders as 
separate species. We received responses from 13 of the peer reviewers.
    During the first comment period we received public comments from 
SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA) and COA that contradicted each 
other. We also developed new information relative to the listing 
determination. For these reasons, we conducted a second peer review on: 
(1) Salamander demographics and (2) urban development and stream 
habitat. The peer reviewers were provided with the contradictory 
comments from SWCA and COA. During this second peer review, we 
solicited expert opinions from knowledgeable individuals with expertise 
in the two areas identified above, which included all of the peer 
reviewers from the first comment period except the taxonomists. We 
received responses from eight peer reviewers. The peer reviewers 
generally concurred with our methods and conclusions and provided 
additional information, clarifications, and suggestions to improve the 
final listing and critical habitat rule. Peer reviewer comments are 
addressed in the following summary and incorporated into the final rule 
as appropriate.

[[Page 51283]]

Peer Reviewer Comments

Taxonomy
    (1) Comment: Most peer reviewers stated that the best available 
scientific information was used to develop the proposed rule and the 
Service's analysis of the available information was scientifically 
sound. Further, most reviewers stated that our assessment that the 
Austin blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and Salado salamanders 
are four distinct species and our interpretation of literature 
addressing threats (including reduced habitat quality due to 
urbanization and increased impervious cover) to these species were well 
researched. However, some researchers suggested that further research 
would strengthen or refine our understanding of these salamanders. For 
example, one reviewer stated that the Jollyville Plateau salamander was 
supported by ``weak but suggestive evidence,'' and, therefore, it 
needed more study. Another reviewer thought there was evidence of 
missing descendants in the group that included the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander in the enzyme analysis presented in the original species 
descriptions (Chippindale et al. 2000).
    Our Response: Peer reviewers' comments indicate that we used the 
best available science, and we correctly interpreted that science as 
recognizing the Austin blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and 
Salado salamanders as four separate species. In the final listing rule, 
we continue to recognize the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders as distinct and valid species. However, we acknowledge that 
the understanding of the taxonomy of these salamander species can be 
strengthened by further research.
    (2) Comment: Forstner (2012, pp. 3-4) used the size of geographic 
distributions as part of his argument for the existence of fewer 
species of Eurycea in Texas than are currently recognized. Several peer 
reviewers commented that they saw no reason for viewing the large 
number of Eurycea species with small distributions in Texas as 
problematic when compared to the larger distributions of Eurycea 
species outside of Texas. They stated that larger numbers and smaller 
distributions of Texas Eurycea species are to be expected given the 
isolated spring environments that they inhabit within an arid 
landscape. Salamander species with very small ranges are common in 
several families and are usually restricted to island, mountain, or 
cave habitats.
    Our Response: See our response to comment 1.
    (3) Comment: Forstner (2012, pp. 15-16) used results from Harlan 
and Zigler (2009), indicating that levels of genetic variation within 
the eastern species E. lucifuga are similar to those among six 
currently recognized species of Texas Eurycea, as part of his argument 
that there are fewer species in Texas than currently recognized. 
Several peer reviewers said that these sorts of comparisons can be very 
misleading in that they fail to take into consideration differences in 
the ages, effective population sizes, or population structure of the 
units being compared. The delimitation of species should be based on 
patterns of genetic variation that bear on the separation (or lack 
thereof) of gene pools rather than on the magnitude of genetic 
differences, which can vary widely within and between species.
    Our Response: See our response to comment 1.
    (4) Comment: Several peer reviewers stated that the taxonomic tree 
presented in Forstner (2012, pp. 20, 26) is difficult to evaluate 
because of the following reasons: (1) no locality information is given 
for the specimens; (2) it disagrees with all trees in other studies 
(which seem to be largely congruent with one another), including that 
in Forstner and McHenry (2010, pp. 13-16) with regard to monophyly 
(more than one member of a group sharing the same ancestor) of several 
of the currently recognized species; and (3) the tree is only a gene 
tree, presenting sequence data on a single gene, which provides little 
or no new information on species relationships of populations.
    Our Response: See our response to comment 1.
    (5) Comment: Peer reviewers generally stated that Forstner (2012, 
pp. 13-14) incorrectly dismisses morphological data that have been used 
to recognize some of the Texas Eurycea species on the basis that it is 
prone to convergence (acquisition of the same biological trait in 
unrelated lineages) and, therefore, misleading. The peer reviewers 
commented that it is true that similarities in characters associated 
with cave-dwelling salamanders can be misleading when suggesting that 
the species possessing those characters are closely related. However, 
this in no way indicates that the reverse is true; that is, indicating 
differences in characters is not misleading in identifying separate 
species.
    Our Response: See our response to comment 1.
Impervious Cover
    (6) Comment: The 10 percent impervious cover threshold may not be 
protective of salamander habitat based on a study by Coles et al. 
(2012, pp. 4-5), which found a loss of sensitive species due to 
urbanization and that there was no evidence of a resistance threshold 
to invertebrates that the salamanders preyed upon. A vast amount of 
literature indicates that 1 to 2 percent impervious cover can cause 
habitat degradation, and, therefore, the 10 percent threshold for 
impervious cover will not be protective of these species.
    Our Response: We recognize that low levels of impervious cover in a 
watershed may have impacts on aquatic life, and we have incorporated 
results of these studies into the final listing rule. However, we are 
aware of only one peer-reviewed study that examined watershed 
impervious cover effects on salamanders in central Texas, and this 
study found impacts on salamander density in watersheds with over 10 
percent impervious cover (Bowles et al. 2006, pp. 113, 117-118). 
Because this impervious cover study was done locally, we are using 10 
percent as a guideline to categorize watersheds that are impacted in 
terms of salamander density.
    (7) Comment: While the Service's impervious cover analysis assessed 
impacts on stream flows and surface habitat, it neglected to address 
impacts over the entire recharge zone of the contributing aquifers on 
spring flows in salamander habitat. Also, the surface watersheds 
analyzed in the proposed rule are irrelevant because these salamanders 
live in cave streams and spring flows that receive groundwater. Without 
information on the groundwater recharge areas, the rule should be clear 
that the surface watersheds are only an approximation of what is 
impacting the subsurface drainage basins.
    Our Response: We acknowledge that the impervious cover analysis is 
limited to impacts on the surface watershed. Because the specific 
groundwater recharge areas of individual springs are unknown, we cannot 
accurately assess the current or future impacts on these areas. 
However, we recognize subsurface flows as another avenue for 
contaminants to reach the salamander sites, and we tried to make this 
clearer in the final rule.
    (8) Comment: Several of the watersheds analyzed for impervious 
cover in the proposed rule were overestimated. The sub-basins in these 
larger watersheds need to be analyzed for impervious cover impacts.
    Our Response: We have refined our impervious cover analysis in this 
final listing rule to clarify the surface

[[Page 51284]]

watersheds of individual spring sites. Our final impervious cover 
report containing this refined analysis is available on the Internet at 
http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2012-0035 and at 
http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas/.
Threats
    (9) Comment: One peer reviewer stated that the threat to these 
species from over collection for scientific purposes may be 
understated.
    Our Response: We have reevaluated the potential threat of 
overutilization for scientific purposes and have incorporated a 
discussion of this under Factor B ``Overutilization for Commercial, 
Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes.'' We recognize that 
removing individuals from small, localized populations in the wild 
without any proposed plans or regulations to restrict these activities 
could increase the population's vulnerability of extinction and 
decrease its resiliency and ability to withstand stochastic events. 
However, we do not consider overutilization from collecting salamanders 
in the wild to be a threat by itself, but it may cause significant 
population declines, and could negatively impact the species in 
combination with other threats.
Salamander Demographics
    (10) Comment: Several peer reviewers agreed that COA's salamander 
survey data were generally collected and analyzed appropriately and 
that the results are consistent with the literature on aquatic species' 
responses to urbanizing watersheds. Three reviewers had some 
suggestions on how the data analysis could be improved, but they also 
state that COA's analysis is the best scientific data available, and 
alternative methods of analysis would not likely change the 
conclusions.
    Our Response: Because the peer reviewers examined COA's salamander 
demographic data, as well as SWCA's analysis of the COA's data, and 
generally agreed that the COA's data was the best information 
available, we continue to rely upon this data set in the final listing 
rule.
    (11) Comment: Two peer reviewers pointed out that SWCA's water 
samples were collected during a period of very low rainfall and, 
therefore, under represent the contribution of water influenced by 
urban land cover. The single sampling of water and sediment at the 
eight sites referenced in the SWCA report do not compare in scope and 
magnitude to the extensive studies referenced from the COA. The 
numerous studies conducted (and referenced) within the known ranges of 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders provide scientific 
support at the appropriate scale for recent and potential habitat 
degradation due to urbanization. One peer reviewer pointed out that if 
you sort the spring sites SWCA sampled into ``urbanized'' and ``rural'' 
categories, the urban sites generally have more degraded water quality 
than the rural sites, in terms of nitrate, nitrite, E. coli counts, and 
fecal coliform bacteria counts.
    Our Response: We agree with the peer reviewers who stated that SWCA 
(2012, pp. 21-24) did not present convincing evidence that overall 
water quality at sites in Williamson County is good or that 
urbanization is not impacting the water quality at these sites. Water 
quality monitoring based on one or a few samples are not necessarily 
reflective of conditions at the site under all circumstances that the 
salamanders are exposed to over time. Based on this assessment, we 
continued to rely upon the best scientific evidence available that 
states water quality will decline as urbanization within the watershed 
increases.
    (12) Comment: The SWCA report indicates that increasing 
conductivity is related to drought. (Note: Conductivity is a measure of 
the ability of water to carry an electrical current and can be used to 
approximate the concentration of dissolved inorganic solids in water 
that can alter the internal water balance in aquatic organisms, 
affecting the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders' 
survival. Conductivity levels in the Edwards Aquifer are naturally low. 
As ion concentrations such as chlorides, sodium, sulfates, and nitrates 
rise, conductivity will increase. The stability of the measured ions 
makes conductivity an excellent monitoring tool for assessing the 
impacts of urbanization to overall water quality. High conductivity has 
been associated with declining salamander abundance.) While SWCA's 
report notes lack of rainfall as the dominant factor in increased 
conductivity, the confounding influence of decreases in infiltration 
and increases in sources of ions as factors associated with 
urbanization and changes in water quality in these areas is not 
addressed by SWCA. The shift to higher conductivity associated with 
increasing impervious surface is well documented in the COA references. 
Higher conductivity in urban streams is well documented and was a major 
finding of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) urban land use studies 
(Coles et al. 2012). Stream conductivity increased with increasing 
urban land cover in every metropolitan area studied. Conductivity is an 
excellent surrogate for tracking changes in water quality related to 
land use change associated with urbanization due to the conservative 
nature of the ions.
    Our Response: While drought may result in increased conductivity, 
increased conductivity is also a reflection of increased urbanization. 
We incorporated information from the study by Coles et al. (2012) in 
the final listing rule, and we continued to include conductivity as a 
measure of water quality in the primary constituent elements for the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders in the final critical 
habitat rule as published elsewhere in today's Federal Register.
    (13) Comment: One peer reviewer stated that SWCA's criticisms of 
COA's linear regression analysis, general additive model, and 
population age structure were not relevant and unsupported. In 
addition, peer reviewers agreed that COA's mark-recapture estimates are 
robust and highly likely to be correct. Three peer reviewers agreed 
that SWCA misrepresented the findings of Luo (2010) and stated that 
this thesis does not invalidate the findings of COA.
    Our Response: Because the peer reviewers examined COA's data, as 
well as SWCA's analysis of the COA's data, and generally agreed that 
the COA's data was the best information available, we continue to rely 
upon this data set in the final listing rule.
    (14) Comment: One peer reviewer stated that the long-term data 
collected by the COA on the Jollyville Plateau salamander were simple 
counts that serve as indexes of relative population abundance, and not 
of absolute abundance. This data assumes that the probability of 
observing salamanders remains constant over time, season, and among 
different observers. This assumption is often violated, which results 
in unknown repercussions on the assessment of population trends. 
Therefore, the negative trend observed in several sites could be due to 
a real decrease in population absolute abundance, but could also be 
related to a decrease in capture probabilities over time (or due to an 
interaction between these two factors). Absolute population abundance 
and capture probabilities should be estimated in urban sites using the 
same methods implemented at rural sites by COA. However, even in the 
absence of clear evidence of local population declines of Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders, the proposed rule was correct in its assessment 
because there is objective evidence that stream alterations negatively 
impact the density

[[Page 51285]]

of Eurycea salamanders (Barrett et al. 2010).
    Our Response: We recognize that the long-term survey data of 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders using simple counts may not give 
conclusive evidence on the true population status at each site. 
However, based on the threats and evidence from scientifically peer-
reviewed literature, we believe the declines in counts seen at urban 
Jollyville Plateau salamander sites are likely representative of real 
declines in the population.
    (15) Comment: One peer reviewer had similar comments on COA 
salamander counts and relating them to populations. They stated that 
the conclusion of a difference in salamander counts between sites with 
high and low levels of impervious cover is reasonable based on COA's 
data. However, this conclusion is not about salamander populations, but 
instead about the counts. The COA's capture-mark-recapture analyses 
provide strong evidence of both nondetection and substantial temporary 
emigration, findings consistent with other studies of salamanders in 
the same family as the Jollyville Plateau salamander. This evidence 
cautions against any sort of analysis that relies on raw count data to 
draw inferences about populations.
    Our Response: See our response to previous comment.
    (16) Comment: The SWCA (2012, pp. 70-76) argues that declines in 
salamander counts can be attributed to declines in rainfall during the 
survey period, and not watershed urbanization. However, one peer 
reviewer stated that SWCA provided no statistical analysis to validate 
this claim and misinterpreted the conclusions of Gillespie (2011) to 
support their argument. A second peer reviewer agrees that counts of 
salamanders are related to natural wet and dry cycles, but points out 
that COA has taken this effect into account in their analyses. Another 
peer reviewer points out that this argument contradicts SWCA's (2012) 
earlier claim that COA's salamander counts are unreliable data. If the 
data were unreliable, they probably would not correlate to 
environmental changes.
    Our Response: Although rainfall is undoubtedly important to these 
strictly aquatic salamander species, the best scientific evidence 
suggests that rainfall is not the only factor driving salamander 
population fluctuations. In the final listing rule, we continue to rely 
upon this evidence as the best scientific and commercial information 
available, which suggests that urbanization is also a large factor 
influencing declines in salamander counts.
    Regarding comments from SWCA on the assessment of threats, peer 
reviewers made the following comments:
    (17) Comment: SWCA's (2012, pp. 84-85) summary understates what is 
known about the ecology of Eurycea species and makes too strong of a 
conclusion about the apparent ``coexistence with long-standing human 
development.'' Human development and urbanization is an incredibly 
recent stressor in the evolutionary history of the central Texas 
Eurycea, and SWCA's assertion that the Eurycea will be ``hardy and 
resilient'' to these new stressors is not substantiated with any 
evidence.
    (18) Comment: SWCA (2012, p. 7) states that, ``Small population 
size and restricted distribution are not among the five listing 
criteria and do not of themselves constitute a reason for considering a 
species at risk of extinction.'' To the contrary, even though the 
salamanders may naturally occur in small isolated populations, small 
isolated populations and the inability to disperse between springs 
should be considered under listing criteria E as a natural factor 
affecting the species' continued existence. In direct contradiction, 
SWCA (2012, p. 81) later states that, ``limited dispersal ability 
(within a spring) may increase the species' vulnerability as 
salamanders may not move from one part of the spring run to another 
when localized habitat loss or degradation occurs.'' It is well known 
that small population size and restricted distributions make 
populations more susceptible to selection or extinction due to 
stochastic events. Small population size can also affect population 
density thresholds required for successful mating.
    (19) Comment: SWCA (2012, p. v) contests that the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander is not in immediate danger of extinction because, 
``over 60 of the 90-plus known Jollyville Plateau salamander sites are 
permanently protected within preserve areas. . . .'' This statement 
completely ignores the entire aquifer recharge zone, which is not 
included in critical habitat. Furthermore, analysis of the COA's 
monitoring and water quality datasets clearly demonstrate that, even 
within protected areas, there is deterioration of water quality and 
decrease in population size of salamanders.
    (20) Comment: SWCA (2012, p. 11) criticizes the Service and the COA 
for not providing a ``direct cause and effect'' relationship between 
urbanization, nutrient levels and salamander populations. There is, in 
fact, a large amount of peer-reviewed literature on the effects of 
pollutants and deterioration of water quality on sensitive 
macroinvertebrate species as well as on aquatic amphibians. In the 
proposed rule, the Service cites just a small sampling of the available 
literature regarding the effects of pollutants on the physiology and 
indirect effects of urbanization on aquatic macroinvertebrates and 
amphibians. In almost all cases, there are synergistic and indirect 
negative effects on these species that may not have one single direct 
cause. There is no ecological requirement that any stressor (be it a 
predator, a pollutant, or a change in the invertebrate community) must 
be a direct effect to threaten the stability or long-term persistence 
of a population or species. Indirect effects can be just as important, 
especially when many are combined.
    Our Response to Comments 17-20: We had SWCA's (2012) report peer 
reviewed. The peer reviewers generally agreed that we used the best 
information available in our proposed listing rule.
    (21) Comment: One reviewer stated that, even though there is 
detectable gene flow between populations, it may be representative of 
subsurface connections in the past, rather than current population 
interchange. However, dispersal through the aquifer is possible even 
though there is currently no evidence that these species migrate. 
Further, they stated that there is no indication of a metapopulation 
structure where one population could recolonize another that had gone 
extinct.
    Our Response: We acknowledge that more study is needed to determine 
the nature and extent of the dispersal capabilities of the Austin blind 
and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. It is plausible that populations of 
these species could extend through subterranean habitat. However, 
subsurface movement is likely to be limited by the highly dissected 
nature of the aquifer system, where spring sites can be separated from 
other spring sites by large canyons or other physical barriers to 
movement. Dye-trace studies have demonstrated that some Jollyville 
Plateau salamander sites located miles apart are connected 
hydrologically (Whitewater Cave and Hideaway Cave) (Hauwert and Warton 
1997, pp. 12-13), but it remains unclear if salamanders are travelling 
between those sites. There is some indication that populations could be 
connected through subterranean water-filled spaces, although we are 
unaware of any information available on the frequency of movements and 
the actual nature of connectivity among populations.

[[Page 51286]]

Comments From States

    Section 4(i) of the Act states, ``the Secretary shall submit to the 
State agency a written justification for his failure to adopt 
regulations consistent with the agency's comments or petition.'' 
Comments received from all State agencies and entities in Texas 
regarding the proposal to list the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders are addressed below.
    (22) Comment: Chippindale (2010) demonstrated that it is possible 
for Jollyville Plateau salamanders to move between sites in underground 
conduits. Close genetic affinities between populations in separate 
watersheds on either side of the RM 620 suggest that these populations 
may be connected hydrologically. Recent studies (Chippindale 2011 and 
2012, in prep) indicate that gene flow among salamander populations 
follows groundwater flow routes in some cases and that genetic exchange 
occurs both horizontally and vertically within an aquifer segment.
    Our Response: We agree that genetic evidence suggests subsurface 
hydrological connectivity exist between sites at some point in time, 
but we are unable to conclude if this connectivity occurred in the past 
or if it still occurs today without more hydrogeological studies or 
direct evidence of salamander migration from mark-recapture studies. 
Also, one of our peer reviewers stated that this genetic exchange is 
probably representative of subsurface connection in the past (see 
comment 21 above).
    (23) Comment: Very little is known about Austin blind salamander, 
and COA has a plan in place to protect and improve habitat without 
listing.
    Our Response: We agree that more study is needed on the ecology of 
the Austin blind salamander, but enough scientific and commercial data 
is available on the threats to this species to make a listing 
determination. We make our listing determinations based on the five 
listing factors, singly or in combination, as described in section 
4(a)(1) of the Act. We recognize the conservation actions made by the 
COA in the final listing and critical habitat rules, but we determined 
that these actions are inadequate to protect the species from threats 
that are occurring from outside of the COA's jurisdiction (that is, the 
surface watershed and recharge area of Barton Springs).
    (24) Comment: Regarding all central Texas salamanders, there was 
insufficient data to evaluate the long-term flow patterns of the 
springs and creeks, and the correlation of flow, water quality, 
habitat, ecology, and community response. Current research in 
Williamson County indicates that water and sediment quality remain good 
with no degradation, no elevated levels of toxins, and no harmful 
residues in known springs.
    Our Response: We have reviewed the best available scientific and 
commercial information in making our final listing determination. We 
sought comments from independent peer reviewers to ensure that our 
designation is based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and 
analysis. And the peer reviewers stated that our proposed rule was 
based on the best available scientific information. Additionally, 
recent research on water quality in Williamson County springs was 
considered in our listing rule. The peer reviewers agreed that these 
data did not present convincing evidence that overall water quality at 
salamander sites in Williamson County is good or that urbanization is 
not impacting the water quality at these sites (see Comment 19 above).
    (25) Comment: The listing will have negative impacts to private 
development and public infrastructure.
    Our Response: In accordance with the Act, we cannot make a listing 
determination based on economic impacts. Section 4(b)(2) of the Act 
states that the Secretary shall designate and make revisions to 
critical habitat on the basis of the best available scientific data 
after taking into consideration the economic impact, national security 
impact, and any other relevant impact of specifying any particular area 
as critical habitat. However, economic considerations are not taken 
into consideration as part of listing determinations.
    (26) Comment: It was suggested that there are adequate regulations 
in Texas to protect the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders, and their respective habitats. The overall programs to 
protect water quality--especially in the watersheds of the Edwards 
Aquifer region--are more robust and protective than suggested by the 
Service's descriptions of deficiencies. The Service overlooks the 
improvements in the State of Texas and local regulatory and incentive 
programs to protect the Edwards Aquifer and spring-dependent species 
over the last 20 years. Texas has extensive water quality management 
and protection programs that operate under State statutes and the 
Federal Clean Water Act. These programs include: Surface Water Quality 
Monitoring Program, Clean Rivers Program, Water Quality Standards, 
Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) Stormwater 
Permitting, Total Maximum Daily Load Program, Nonpoint Source Program, 
Edwards Aquifer Rules, and Local Ordinances and Rules (San Marcos 
Ordinance and COA Rules). Continuing efforts at the local, regional, 
and State level will provide a more focused and efficient approach for 
protecting these species than Federal listing.
    Our Response: Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act requires us to take 
into account those efforts being made by a State or foreign nation, or 
any political subdivision of a State or foreign nation, to protect such 
species, and we fully recognize the contributions of the State and 
local programs. We consider relevant Federal, State, and tribal laws 
and regulations when developing our threats analysis. Regulatory 
mechanisms may preclude the need for listing if we determine such 
mechanisms address the threats to the species such that listing is no 
longer warranted. However, the best available scientific and commercial 
data supports our determination that existing regulations and local 
ordinances are not adequate to remove all of the threats to the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. We have added further 
discussion of these regulations and ordinances to Factor D in the final 
listing rule.
    (27) Comment: The requirement in the Edwards Rules for wastewater 
to be disposed of on the recharge zone by land application is an 
important and protective practice for aquifer recharge and a 
sustainable supply of groundwater. Permits for irrigation of wastewater 
are fully evaluated and conditioned to require suitable vegetation and 
sufficient acreage to protect water quality.
    Our Response: Based on the best available science, wastewater 
disposal on the recharge zone by land application can contribute to 
water quality degradation in surface waters and the underground 
aquifer. Previous studies have demonstrated negative impacts to water 
quality (increases in nitrate levels) at Barton Springs (Mahler et al. 
2011, pp. 29-35) and within streams (Ross 2011, pp. 11-21) that were 
likely associated with the land application of wastewater.
    (28) Comment: A summary of surface water quality data for streams 
in the watersheds of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders was provided and a suggestion was made that sampling data 
indicated high-quality aquatic life will be maintained despite 
occasional instances where parameters exceeded criteria or screening 
levels.

[[Page 51287]]

    Our Response: In reviewing the 2010 and 2012 Texas Water Quality 
Integrated Reports prepared by the Texas Commission on Environmental 
Quality (TCEQ), the Service identified 14 of 28 (50 percent) stream 
segments located within surface drainage areas occupied by the 
salamanders, which contained measured parameters within water samples 
that exceeded screening level criteria. These included ``screening 
level concerns'' for parameters such as nitrate, dissolved oxygen, 
impaired benthic communities, sediment toxicity, and bacteria. In 
addition, as required under Sections 303(d) and 304(a) of the Clean 
Water Act, 4 of 28 stream segments located within surface drainage 
areas occupied by the salamanders have been identified as impaired 
waters ``. . . for which effluent limitations are not stringent enough 
to implement water quality standards.'' Water quality data collected 
and summarized in TCEQ reports supports our concerns with water quality 
degradation within the surface drainage areas occupied by the 
salamanders. This information is discussed under D. The Inadequacy of 
Existing Regulatory Mechanisms in this final listing rule.

Public Comments

Existing Regulatory Mechanisms
    (29) Comment: Many commenters expressed concern that the Service 
had not adequately addressed all of the existing regulatory mechanisms 
and programs that provided protection to the salamanders. In addition, 
many of the same commenters believed there were adequate Federal, 
State, and local regulatory mechanisms to protect the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders and their aquatic habitats.
    Our Response: Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act requires us to take 
into account those efforts being made by a State or foreign nation, or 
any political subdivision of a State or foreign nation, to protect such 
species. Under D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms in 
the final listing rule, we provide an analysis of the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms. During the comment period, we sought 
out and were provided information on several local, State, and Federal 
regulatory mechanisms that we had not considered when developing the 
proposed rule. We have reviewed these mechanisms and have included them 
in our analysis under D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory 
Mechanisms in the final listing rule. Our expanded analysis still 
concluded that existing regulations and local ordinances are not 
effective at removing the threats to the salamanders.
Protections
    (30) Comment: The Service fails to consider existing local 
conservation measures and habitat conservation plans (HCPs) including 
the regional permit issued to the COA and Travis County, referred to as 
the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP), which benefits the 
salamanders. While the salamanders are not covered in most of these 
HCPs, some commenters believe that measures are in place to mitigate 
any imminent threats to the species. The Service overlooks permanent 
conservation actions undertaken by both public and private entities 
over the last two or more decades, including preservation of caves, 
which protects water quality through recharge, and the preservation of 
the original Water Treatment Plant 4 site as conservation land in 
perpetuity, which the COA is now managing as part of the Balcones 
Canyonlands Preserve. Additionally, Travis County conducts quarterly 
surveys at two permanent survey sites, and the COA monitors several 
spring sites, along with additional searches for new localities within 
the BCCP-managed properties. The HCPs and water quality protection 
standards are sufficient to prevent significant habitat degradation. 
Several commenters stated that the majority of Jollyville Plateau 
salamander sites were already protected by the Balcones Canyonlands 
Preserve.
    Our Response: In the final listing rule, we included a section 
titled ``Conservation Efforts to Reduce Habitat Destruction, 
Modification, or Curtailment of Its Range'' that describes existing 
conservation measures including the regional permit issued to the COA 
and Travis County for the BCCP and the Williamson County Regional HCP. 
These conservation efforts and the manner in which they are helping to 
ameliorate threats to the species were considered in our final listing 
determination. The Service considered the amount and location of 
managed open space when analyzing impervious cover levels within each 
surface watershed (Service 2012, 2013). We also considered preserves 
when projecting how impervious cover levels within the surface 
watershed of each spring site would change in the future. These 
analyses included the benefits from open space as a result of several 
HCPs (including, but not limited to, the BCCP, Rockledge HCP, and 
Comanche Canyon HCP). Additional conservation lands considered, but not 
part of, an HCP, includes the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), 
The Nature Conservancy of Texas, and Travis Audubon Society. While 
these conservation lands contribute to the protection of the surface 
and subsurface watersheds, other factors contribute to the decline of 
the salamander's habitat. Other factors include, but are not limited 
to: (1) Other areas within the surface watershed that have high levels 
of impervious cover, which increases the overall percentage of 
impervious cover within the watershed; (2) potential for groundwater 
pollution from areas outside of the surface watershed; and (3) 
disturbance of the surface habitat of the spring sites themselves.
    With regard to the BCCP specifically, we recognize that the BCCP 
system offers some water quality benefits to the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander in portions of the Bull Creek, Brushy Creek, Cypress Creek, 
and Long Hollow Creek drainages through preservation of open space 
(Service 1996, pp. 2-28-2-29). Despite the significant conservation 
measures being achieved by the BCCP and their partners, the potential 
for groundwater degradation still exists from outside these preserves. 
For example, eight of the nine COA monitoring sites occupied by the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander within the BCCP have experienced water 
quality degradation where pollution sources likely originated upstream 
and outside of the preserved tracts (O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 29, 34, 
37, 49; COA 1999, pp. 6-11; Travis County 2007, p. 4).
    (31) Comment: The proposed rule directly contradicts the Service's 
recent policy titled Expanding Incentives for Voluntary Conservation 
Actions Under the Act (77 FR 15352, March 15, 2012), which concerns the 
encouragement of voluntary conservation actions for non-listed species 
and is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-03-15/pdf/2012-6221.pdf.
    Our Response: The commenter did not specify how the proposed rule 
contradicts the Service's recent policy pronouncements concerning the 
encouragement of voluntary conservation actions for nonlisted species. 
The recent policy pronouncements specifically state that voluntary 
conservation actions undertaken are unlikely to be sufficient to affect 
the need to list the species. However, if the species is listed and 
voluntary conservation actions are implemented, as outlined in policy 
pronouncements, the Service can provide assurances that if the 
conditions of a conservation agreement are met, the landowner will not 
be asked to do more, commit more resources, or be subject to further 
land use restrictions than agreed

[[Page 51288]]

upon. We may also allow a prescribed level of incidental take by the 
landowner.
Listing Process and Policy
    (32) Comment: The Service is pushing these listings because of the 
legal settlement and not basing its decision on science and the reality 
of the existing salamander populations.
    Our Response: We are required by court-approved settlement 
agreements to remove Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
from the candidate list within a specified timeframe. To remove these 
salamanders from the candidate list means to propose them for listing 
as threatened or endangered or to prepare a not-warranted finding. The 
Act requires us to determine whether a species warrants listing based 
on our assessment of the five listing factors described in the Act 
using the best available scientific and commercial information. We 
already determined, prior to the court settlement agreement, that the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders warranted listing under 
the Act, but were precluded by the necessity to commit limited funds 
and staff to complete higher priority species actions. The Austin blind 
and Jollyville Plateau salamanders have been included in our annual 
Candidate Notices of Review for multiple years, during which time 
scientific literature and data have and continue to indicate that these 
salamander species are detrimentally impacted by ongoing threats, and 
we continued to find that listing each species was warranted but 
precluded. While the settlement agreement has set a court-ordered 
timeline for rendering our final decision, our determination is still 
guided by the Act and its implementing regulations considering the five 
listing factors and using the best available scientific and commercial 
information.
    (33) Comment: Commenters requested that the Service extend the 
comment period for another 45 days after the first comment period. The 
commenters were concerned about the length of the proposed listing, 
which is very dense and fills 88 pages in the Federal Register and that 
the public hearing was held only 2 weeks after the proposed rule was 
published. The commenter does not consider this enough time to read and 
digest how the Service is basing a listing decision that will have 
serious consequences for Williamson County. Furthermore, the 60-day 
comment period does not give the public enough time to submit written 
comments to such a large proposed rule.
    Our Response: The initial comment period for the proposed listing 
and critical habitat designation consisted of 60 days, beginning August 
22, 2012, and ending on October 22, 2012. We reopened the comment 
period for an additional 45 days, beginning on January 25, 2013, and 
ending on March 11, 2013. We consider the comment periods described 
above an adequate opportunity for both written and oral public comment.
    (34) Comment: One commenter suggested recognition of two distinct 
population segments for Jollyville Plateau salamander.
    Our Response: In making our listing determinations, we first decide 
whether a species is endangered or threatened throughout its entire 
range. Because we have already determined that the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander is warranted for listing throughout its entire range, we are 
not considering whether a distinct vertebrate population segment of the 
species meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species.
    (35) Comment: One commenter expressed concern with the use of 
``unpublished'' data in the proposed rule. It is important that the 
Service takes the necessary steps to ensure all data used in the 
listing and critical habitat designations are reliable, verifiable, and 
peer reviewed, as required by President Obama's 2009 directive for 
transparency and open government. In December of 2009, the Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) issued clarification on the presentation 
and substance of data used by Federal agencies and required in its 
Information Quality Guidelines. Additionally under the OMB guidelines, 
all information disseminated by Federal agencies must meet the standard 
of ``objectivity.'' Additionally, relying on older studies instead of 
newer ones conflicts with the Information Quality Guidelines.
    Our Response: Our use of unpublished information and data does not 
contravene the transparency and open government directive. Under the 
Act, we are obligated to use the best available scientific and 
commercial information, including results from surveys, reports by 
scientists and biological consultants, various models, and expert 
opinion from biologists with extensive experience studying the 
salamanders and their habitat, whether published or unpublished. One 
element of the transparency and open government directive encourages 
executive departments and agencies to make information about operations 
and decisions readily available to the public. Supporting documentation 
used to prepare the proposed and final rules is available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Austin Ecological Services Field Office, 
10711 Burnet Rd, Suite 200, Austin, Texas 78758.
Peer Review Process
    (36) Comment: One commenter requested that the Service make the 
peer review process as transparent and objective as possible. The 
Service should make available the process and criteria used to identify 
peer reviewers. It is not appropriate for the Service to choose the 
peer review experts. For the peer review to be credible, the entire 
process including the selection of reviewers must be managed by an 
independent and objective party. We recommend that the peer review plan 
identify at least two peer reviewers per scientific discipline. 
Further, the peer reviewers should be identified.
    Our Response: To ensure the quality and credibility of the 
scientific information we use to make decisions, we have implemented a 
formal peer review process. Through this peer review process, we 
followed the guidelines for Federal agencies spelled out in the Office 
of Management and Budget (OMB) ``Final Information Quality Bulletin for 
Peer Review,'' released December 16, 2004, and the Service's 
``Information Quality Guidelines and Peer Review,'' revised June 2012. 
Part of the peer review process is to provide information online about 
how each peer review is to be conducted. Prior to publishing the 
proposed listing and critical habitat rule for the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders, we posted a peer review plan on our Web 
site, which included information about the process and criteria used 
for selecting peer reviewers.
    In regard to transparency, the OMB and Service's peer review 
guidelines mandate that we not conduct anonymous peer reviews. The 
guidelines state that we advise reviewers that their reviews, including 
their names and affiliations, and how we respond to their comments will 
be included in the official record for review, and, once all the 
reviews are completed, their reviews will be available to the public. 
We followed the policies and standards for conducting peer reviews as 
part of this rulemaking process.
    (37) Comment: The results of the peer review process should be 
available to the public for review and comment well before the end of 
the public comment period on the listing decision. Will the

[[Page 51289]]

public have an opportunity to participate in the peer review process?
    Response: As noted above, OMB and the Service's guidelines state 
that we make available to the public the peer reviewers information, 
reviews, and how we respond to their comments once all reviews are 
completed. The peer reviews are completed at the time the last public 
comment period closes, and our responses to their comments are 
completed at the time the final listing decision is published in the 
Federal Register. All peer review process information is available upon 
request at this time and will be made available from the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Austin Ecological Services Field Office, 10711 Burnet 
Rd, Suite 200, Austin, Texas 78758.
    (38) Comment: New information has been provided during the comment 
period. The final listing decision should be peer reviewed.
    Response: During the second public comment period, we asked peer 
reviewers to comment on new and substantial information that we 
received during the first comment period. We did not receive any new 
information during the second comment period that we felt rose to the 
level of needing peer review. Furthermore, as part of our peer review 
process, we asked peer reviewers not to provide comments or 
recommendations on the listing decision. Peer reviewers were asked to 
comment specifically on the quality of information and analyses used or 
relied on in the reviewed documents. In addition, they were asked to 
identify oversights, omissions, and inconsistencies; provide advice on 
reasonableness of judgments made from the scientific evidence; ensure 
that scientific uncertainties are clearly identified and characterized 
and that potential implications of uncertainties for the technical 
conclusions drawn are clear; and provide advice on the overall 
strengths and limitations of the scientific data used in the document.
    (39) Comment: One commenter requested a peer review of the Austin 
blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and Salado salamanders' taxonomy 
and recommended that, to avoid any potential bias, peer reviewers not 
be from Texas or be authors or contributors of any works that the 
Service has or is relying upon to diagnose the Austin blind, 
Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and Salado salamanders as four distinct 
species. This commenter also provided a list of four recommended 
scientists for the peer review on taxonomy.
    Our Response: We requested peer reviews of the central Texas 
salamander taxonomy from 11 scientific experts in this field. Because 
we considered the 4 recommended scientists to be qualified as 
independent experts, we included the 4 experts recommended by the 
commenter among the 11. Eight scientists responded to our request, and 
all eight scientists agreed with our recognition of four separate and 
distinct salamander species, as described in the Species Information 
section of the proposed and final listing rules. The commenter also 
provided an unpublished paper offering an alternative interpretation of 
the taxonomy of central Texas salamanders (Forstner 2012, entire), and 
that information was also provided to peer reviewers. We included two 
authors of the original species descriptions of the Austin blind, 
Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and Salado salamanders to give them an 
opportunity to respond to criticisms of their work and so that we could 
fully understand the taxonomic questions about these species.
    (40) Comment: One commenter requested a revision to the peer review 
plan to clarify whether it is a review of non-influential information 
or influential information.
    Our Response: We see no benefit from revising the peer review plan 
to clarify whether the review was of non-influential or influential 
information. The Service's ``Information Quality Guidelines and Peer 
Review,'' revised June 2012, defines influential information as 
information that we can reasonably determine that dissemination of the 
information will have or does have a clear and substantial impact on 
important policy or private sector decisions. Also, we are authorized 
to define influential in ways appropriate for us, given the nature and 
multiplicity of issues for which we are responsible. As a general rule, 
we consider an impact clear and substantial when a specific piece of 
information is a principle basis for our position.
    (41) Comment: One commenter requested clarification on what type of 
peer review was intended. Was it a panel review or individual review? 
Did peer reviewers operate in isolation to generate individual reports 
or did they work collaboratively to generate a single peer review 
document.
    Our Response: Peer reviews were requested individually. Each peer 
reviewer who responded generated independent comments.
    (42) Comment: It does not seem appropriate to ask peer reviewers, 
who apparently do not have direct expertise on Eurycea or central Texas 
ecological systems, to provide advice on reasonableness of judgments 
made from generic statements or hyper-extrapolations from studies on 
other species. The peer review plan states that reviewers will have 
expertise in invertebrate ecology, conservation biology, or desert 
spring ecology. The disciplines of invertebrate ecology and desert 
spring ecology do not have any apparent relevance to the salamanders in 
question. The Eurycea are vertebrate species that spend nearly all of 
their life cycle underground. Central Texas is not a desert. The peer 
reviewers should have expertise in amphibian ecology and familiarity 
with how karst hydrogeology operates.
    Our Response: The peer review plan stated that we sought out peer 
reviewers with expertise in invertebrate ecology or desert spring 
ecology, but this was an error. In the first comment period, we asked 
and received peer reviews from independent scientists with local and 
non-local expertise in amphibian ecology, amphibian taxonomy, and karst 
hydrology. In the second comment period, we sought out peer reviewers 
with local and non-local expertise in population ecology and watershed 
urbanization.
    (43) Comment: The peer review plan appears to ask peer reviewers to 
consider only the scientific information reviewed by the Service. The 
plan should include the question of whether the scientific information 
reviewed constitutes the best available scientific and commercial data. 
The plan should be revised to clarify that the peer reviewers are not 
limited to the scientific information in the Service's administrative 
record.
    Our Response: The peer review plan states that we may ask peer 
reviewers to identify oversights and omissions of information as well 
as to consider the information reviewed by the Service. When we sent 
out letters to peer reviewers asking for their review, we specifically 
asked them to identify any oversights, omissions, and inconsistencies 
with the information we presented in the proposed rule.
    (44) Comment: The proposed peer review plan falls far short of the 
OMB Guidelines (2004 Office of Management and Budget promulgated its 
Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review).
    Our Response: This commenter failed to tell us how the plan falls 
short of the OMB Guidelines. We tried to adhere to the guidelines set 
forth for Federal agencies and in OMB's ``Final Information Quality 
Bulletin for Peer Review,'' released December 16, 2004, and the 
Service's ``Information Quality Guidelines and Peer Review,'' revised 
June 2012. While the draft peer review plan had some errors, we believe 
we satisfied the intent of the guidelines and

[[Page 51290]]

that the errors did not affect the rigor of the actual peer review that 
occurred.
Salamander Populations
    (45) Comment: Studies indicate that there are healthy populations 
of Jollyville Plateau salamanders in many locations, including highly 
developed areas such as State Highway 45 at RM 620 and along Spicewood 
Springs Road between Loop 1 and Mesa Drive.
    Our Response: We are unaware of long-term monitoring studies that 
have demonstrated healthy populations of Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
over time in highly developed areas. Furthermore, the fact that some 
heavily urbanized areas still have salamanders in them does not 
indicate the probability of population stability. In the case of the 
Spicewood Spring site mentioned by the commenter, salamander monitoring 
by COA since 1996 has consistently found low numbers of salamanders 
(Bendik 2011a, pp. 14, 19-20).
    (46) Comment: A recent study by SWCA proposes that the COA's data 
is inadequate to assess salamander population trends and is not 
representative of environmental and population control factors (such as 
seasonal rainfall and drought). The study also states that there is 
very little evidence linking increased urban development to declining 
water quality.
    Our Response: We have reviewed the report by SWCA and COA's data 
and determined that it is reasonable to conclude that a link between 
increased urban development, declining water quality, and declining 
salamander populations exists for these species. Peer reviewers have 
also generally agreed with this assessment.
    (47) Comment: Given the central Texas climate and the general 
geology and hydrology of the Edwards Limestone formation north of the 
Colorado River, the description ``surface-dwelling'' or ``surface 
residing'' overstates the extent and frequency that the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander utilizes surface water. The phrase ``surface 
dwelling population'' in the proposed rule appears to be based on two 
undisclosed and questionable assumptions pertaining to Jollyville 
Plateau salamander species: (1) There are a sufficient number of these 
salamanders that have surface water available to them for sufficient 
periods of times so that the group could be called a ``population;'' 
and (2) there are surface-dwelling Jollyville Plateau salamander 
populations that are distinct from subsurface dwelling Jollyville 
Plateau salamander populations. Neither assumption can be correct 
unless the surface area is within a spring-fed impoundment that 
maintains water for a significant portion of a year. The notion of 
Jollyville Plateau salamander being a ``surface dwelling Eurycea'' most 
likely stems from an early description of the Barton Springs salamander 
adopted by the Service. Characterizing the Barton Springs salamander as 
``predominately surface dwelling'' is highly questionable. The history 
of the Barton Springs Pool provides a tremendous amount of information 
regarding the life history of the Barton Springs salamander (and other 
Texas Eurycea), the relative importance of surface habitat areas, and 
the absolute necessity for underground habitat.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule, we did not mean to imply or 
assume that ``surface-dwelling populations'' are restricted to surface 
habitat only. In fact, we made clear in the proposed rule that these 
populations need access to subsurface habitat. In addition, we also 
considered the morphology of these species in our description of their 
habitat use. The morphology of the Jollyville Plateau salamander serves 
as indicators of surface and subsurface habitat use. The Jollyville 
Plateau salamander's surface populations have large, well-developed 
eyes. In addition, the Jollyville Plateau salamanders have yellowish 
heads and dark greenish-brown bodies. Subterranean populations of this 
species have reduced eyes and dullness of color, indicating adaptation 
to subsurface habitat. In contrast, the Austin blind salamander has no 
external eyes and has lightly pigmented skin, indicating it is more 
subterranean than surface-dwelling.
Threats
    (48) Comment: One commenter described an experiment at Barton 
Springs Pool in 1998 designed to measure the impacts on the Barton 
Springs salamander from lowering the water level during pool cleanings. 
At the time, the substrate of the beach area was described by the 
Service as ``basically silt and sediment with algae on top'' and ``like 
concrete.'' In other words, it was nothing like the habitat in the 
proposed rule, which emphasized the need for interstitial spaces (the 
space between the rocks) free from sediments. Despite this 
untraditional habitat, 23 Barton Springs salamanders were found in the 
beach area, and prey items such as amphipods were also found. Later, 
the COA removed the silt and algae substrate, restricting salamander 
habitat to the rocky substrate. The events of 1998 demonstrate that 
unobstructed interstitial space is not necessarily critical to 
impounded habitats. Constant water impoundments (Barton Springs Pool 
and Spring Lake in San Marcos) are a unique type of habitat (pond) for 
Eurycea distinct from ephemeral spring flow areas and underground 
areas. The San Marcos salamander uses aquatic vegetation as cover. It 
is noteworthy that Spring Lake has a significantly higher density of 
salamanders than does Barton Springs Pool. Threats the Service 
associates with sediment must be assessed differently for impounded 
areas compared to ephemeral spring flow areas.
    Our Response: We recognize that these salamanders can use habitat 
types other than rocky substrate. Jollyville Plateau salamanders have 
been found under leaf litter, vegetation, and in open areas (Bowles et 
al. 2006, pp. 114-116). Pierce et al. (2010, p. 295) observed closely 
related Georgetown salamanders in open spaces and under sticks, leaf 
litter, and other structural cover. However, these peer-reviewed 
studies also came to the conclusion that salamanders are much more 
likely to be under rocks than other cover objects and that they select 
rocks with larger surface areas (Pierce et al. 2010, p. 296; Bowles et 
al. 2006, p. 118). These results are consistent with studies on other 
aquatic salamanders nationwide (Davic and Orr 1987; Parker 1991; Welsh 
and Ollivier 1998; Smith and Grossman 2003). Therefore, based on the 
best available information, we consider habitat containing substrates 
other than large rocks to be suboptimal habitat for the Austin blind 
and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. Regarding sediment, we explain the 
impacts that sedimentation has on salamanders in the proposed and final 
listing rules under Factor A. The assessment of this threat is based on 
a number of studies, which peer reviewers have agreed comprise the best 
available information. Impoundments promote sedimentation and generally 
suboptimal habitat for salamanders, as described under Factor A of the 
proposed and final listing rules. Despite the persistence of salamander 
species at impounded locations, these are not natural habitat types in 
which the species have evolved and would be unlikely to persist in 
perpetuity if restricted to sites like this.
    (49) Comment: The Service appears reluctant to distinguish between 
what are normal, baseline physical conditions (climate, geology, and 
hydrology) found in central Texas and those factors outside of the norm 
that might actually threaten the survival of the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders species. Cyclical droughts and regular 
flood events are part of the normal

[[Page 51291]]

central Texas climate and have been for thousands of years. The Service 
appears very tentative about accepting the obvious adaptive behaviors 
of the salamanders to survive floods and droughts.
    Our Response: The final listing rule acknowledges that drought 
conditions are common to the region, and the ability to retreat 
underground may be an evolutionary adaptation to such natural 
conditions (Bendik 2011a, pp. 31-32). However, it is important to note 
that, although salamanders may survive a drought by retreating 
underground, this does not necessarily mean they are resilient to 
future worsening drought conditions in combination with other 
environmental stressors. For example, climate change, groundwater 
pumping, decreased water infiltration to the aquifer, potential 
increases in saline water encroachments in the aquifer, and increased 
competition for spaces and resources underground all may negatively 
affect their habitat (COA 2006, pp. 46-47; TPWD 2011, pp. 4-5; Bendik 
2011a, p. 31; Miller et al. 2007; p. 74; Schueler 1991, p. 114). These 
factors may exacerbate drought conditions to the point where 
salamanders cannot survive. In addition, we recognize threats to 
surface habitat at a given site may not extirpate populations of these 
salamander species in the short term, but this type of habitat 
degradation may severely limit population growth and increase a 
population's overall risk of extirpation from cumulative impacts of 
other stressors occurring in the surface watershed of a spring.
    (50) Comment: The Service cited two COA studies (COA 2001, p.15; 
COA 2010a, p. 16) within the proposed rule to support the finding of 
water quality degradation in the Bull Creek watershed. To the extent 
that the 2001 study is superseded by the 2010 study, the 2001 study 
should be excluded. The COA 2001 report (p. 16) states that ``Although 
this study found some evidence of a negative shift in the Bull Creek 
watershed, many COA watershed health measures, including the habitat 
quality index, the TCEQ aquatic life use score, the number of 
macroinvertebrate taxa, and the three diatom community metrics, all 
continue to indicate an overall healthy creek.'' The use of the 2010 
study without providing a full disclosure or analysis of the overall 
findings of this study does not meet the objectivity standard of the 
Information Quality Guidelines.
    Our Response: We cited the COA 2010 study twice in the proposed 
rule: once to state that sensitive macroinvertebrate species were lost 
in Bull Creek (77 FR 50778), and once to state that Tributary 5 of Bull 
Creek increased in conductivity, chloride, and sodium and decreased in 
invertebrate diversity from 1996 to 2008 (77 FR 50779). We do not 
believe that these statements were misleading or misrepresenting the 
results of the study. In addition, the COA 2010 report (p. 16) 
summarized their study by stating that ``currently Bull Creek ranks 
highest out of all sampled creeks in the COA; however, spatial 
differences between sites coupled with temporal shifts over the past 
decade indicate negative changes in the watershed, particularly in the 
headwater tributaries.'' This statement is followed by a list of water 
quality declines found in headwater tributaries 5 and 6. This is the 
area of Bull Creek where Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat is 
located.
    Further, the Service has relied on other data to support the 
conclusion that water quality is degrading in the Bull Creek watershed. 
For example, O'Donnell et al. (2006, p. 45) state that despite the 
amount of preserve land in the watershed, ``the City of Austin has 
reported significant declines in Jollyville Plateau salamander 
abundance at one of their Jollyville Plateau salamander monitoring 
sites within Bull Creek even though our analysis found that 61 percent 
of the land within this watershed has 0 percent impervious cover.'' 
O'Donnell et al. (2006, p. 46) state, ``Poor water quality, as measured 
by high specific conductance and elevated levels of ion concentrations, 
is cited as one of the likely factors leading to statistically 
significant declines in salamander abundance at the COA's long-term 
monitoring sites.''
    (51) Comment: The Service cites a 2005 COA study (Turner 2005a, p. 
6) that reported ``significant changes over time'' for several chemical 
constituents (77 FR 50779). The proposed rule does not disclose the 
following finding from this study: ``No significant trends at the 0.05 
level were found when the data from the last five years was 
eliminated.'' Also not disclosed were the study's author's admonition 
regarding the limitations of the study and statement that the study 
should not be used to predict future water quality concentrations. 
Finally, the proposed rule did not disclose the last sentence of this 
report: ``Significance and presence of trends is variable depending on 
flow conditions (`baseflow vs. stormflow, recharge vs. non-
recharge').'' Such non-disclosures do not comport with the Information 
Quality Guidelines.
    Our Response: We do not believe that our characterization of this 
study was misleading or misrepresenting the results of the study. The 
fact that significant trends were not found when the last 5 years of 
data (from 1995 through 1999) were excluded from the analysis supports 
our conclusion that recent urbanization in the surrounding areas was 
driving declines in water quality. The author states that their 
regression model should not be used to predict future water quality 
concentrations (Turner 2005, p. 6). We made no such predictions based 
on this model in the proposed rule. Regarding the last point made by 
the commenter, the proposed rule did in fact state that, ``The 
significance and presence of trends in other pollutants were variable 
depending on flow conditions (baseflow vs. stormflow, recharge vs. non-
recharge) (Turner 2005a, p. 20)'' (see 77 FR 50779).
    (52) Comment: The Tonkawa Springs and Great Oaks neighborhoods in 
Williamson County, Texas, had their water supply contaminated in 1995 
after gasoline from a nearby gas station leaked into water wells for 
the two neighborhoods. These water wells had to be decommissioned and 
another water supplier found.
    Our Response: We agree that leaking underground storage tanks and 
other sources of hazardous materials pose a threat to salamanders. The 
final listing rules cite this type of hazardous spill as a threat.
    (53) Comment: One commenter contests the idea that land application 
irrigation from wastewater treatment plants increases pollutants in the 
aquifer.
    Our Response: No citation is provided by the commenter to support 
this view; however, Ross (2011, pp. 11-18) reported that residential 
irrigation with wastewater effluent had led to excessive nutrient input 
into the recharge zone of the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards 
Aquifer. Mahler et al. (2011, p. 35) also cites land application of 
treated wastewater as the likely source of excess nutrients, and 
possibly wastewater compounds, detected in tributaries recharging 
Barton Springs. This information has been updated in the final listing 
rule.
    (54) Comment: City of Round Rock is extending its contract for the 
third time to build a fire station next to Krienke Spring in Jollyville 
Plateau salamander critical habitat Unit 1. No detention facilities 
have been proposed, and none appear possible because of topography 
without excavation into karst rock layer. The City of Round Rock had a 
geological assessment and geotechnical studies done as well as an 
engineering feasibility study, which includes logs of boring with lab 
test data, boring location

[[Page 51292]]

plan, and preliminary foundation and pavement design information. 
Copies were provided in the comment letter.
    Our Response: The final listing rule cites population growth and 
urban development as a primary threat to salamanders. To achieve 
recovery of these salamander species, we will seek cooperative 
conservation efforts on private, State, and other lands.
    (55) Comment: Through measuring water-borne stress hormones, 
researchers found that salamanders from urban sites had significantly 
higher corticosterone stress hormone levels than salamanders from rural 
sites. This finding serves as evidence that chronic stress can occur as 
development encroaches upon these spring habitats.
    Our Response: We are aware that researchers are pursuing this 
relatively new approach to evaluate salamander health based on 
differences in stress hormones between salamanders from urban and 
nonurban sites. Stress levels that are elevated due to natural or 
unnatural (that is, anthropogenic) environmental stressors can affect 
an organism's ability to meet its life-history requirements, including 
adequate foraging, predator avoidance, and reproductive success. We 
encourage continued development of this and other nonlethal scientific 
methods to improve our understanding of salamander health and habitat 
quality.
    (56) Comment: Information in the proposed rule does not discern 
whether water quality degradation is due to development or natural 
variation in flood and rainfall events. Fundamental differences in 
surface counts of salamanders between sites are due to a natural 
dynamic of an extended period of above-average rainfall followed by 
recent drought.
    Our Response: We recognize that aquatic-dependent organisms such as 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders will respond to 
local weather conditions; however, the best available science indicates 
that rainfall alone does not explain lower salamander densities at 
urban sites monitored by the COA. Furthermore, there is scientific 
consensus among numerous studies on the impacts of urbanization that 
conclude species diversity and abundance consistently declines with 
increasing levels of development, as described under Factor A in the 
final listing rule.
    (57) Comment: Studies carried out by the Williamson County 
Conservation Foundation (WCCF) do not support the Service's assertions 
that habitat for the salamanders is threatened by declining water 
quality and quantity. New information from water quality studies 
performed within the past 3 months at Jollyville Plateau salamander 
sites indicate that aquifer water is remarkably clean and that water 
quality protection standards already in place throughout the county are 
working.
    Our Response: The listing process requires the Service to consider 
both ongoing and future threats to the species. Williamson County has 
yet to experience the same level of population growth as Travis County, 
but is projected to have continued rapid growth in the foreseeable 
future. Therefore, it is not surprising that some areas where the 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders occur in Williamson County may exhibit 
good water quality. However, our peer reviewers concluded that the 
water quality data referenced by the commenter is not enough evidence 
to conclude that water quality at salamander sites in Williamson County 
is sufficient for the Jollyville Plateau salamander. The best available 
science indicates that water quality and species diversity consistently 
declines with increasing levels of urban development. Existing 
regulatory programs designed to protect water quality are often not 
adequate to preserve native ecosystem integrity. Although some springs 
support larger salamander populations compared to others, among the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander sites for which we have long-term 
monitoring data, there is a strong correlation between highly urbanized 
areas and lower salamander densities. According to COA, densities of 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders are an average of three times lower at 
urban sites compared to rural streams.
    (58) Comment: Aerial photography in the Travis County soil survey 
indicates that the entire surface watershed of Indian Spring was built 
out as primarily single-family residential subdivisions before 1970 in 
the absence of any water quality regulations. Impervious cover levels 
in the watershed have remained above 40 percent for more than 40 years. 
Despite nearly 75 years of contiguous development and habitat 
modification to Indian Spring, the salamanders have persisted and 
appear to thrive.
    Our Response: We were provided no references in support of the 
comment ``. . . Indian Spring . . . salamanders have persisted and 
appear to thrive.'' Our records indicate the status of the salamander 
population at Indian Springs is currently unknown. As stated in our 
response to comment 62 above, we are unaware of long-term monitoring 
studies that have demonstrated stable populations of Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders over time in highly developed areas. Furthermore, the fact 
that some heavily urbanized areas still have salamanders in them does 
not indicate the probability of population persistence over the long 
term.
Hydrology
    (59) Comment: The Service homogenizes ecosystem characteristics 
across central Texas salamander species. The proposed rule often 
assumes that the ``surface habitat'' characteristics of the Barton 
Springs salamander and Austin blind salamander (year-round surface 
water in manmade impoundments) apply to the Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders, which live in very different geologic and hydrologic 
habitat. The Jollyville Plateau salamander lives in water contained 
within a ``perched'' zone of the Edwards Limestone formation that is 
relatively thin and does not retain or recharge much water when 
compared to the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Many of 
the springs where Jollyville Plateau salamanders are found are more 
ephemeral due to the relatively small drainage basins and relatively 
quick discharge of surplus groundwater after a rainfall event. Surface 
water at several of the proposed creek headwater critical habitat units 
is generally short lived following a rain event. The persistence of 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders at these headwater locations 
demonstrates that this species is not as dependent on surface water as 
occupied impoundments suggest.
    Our Response: The Service recognizes that the Austin blind 
salamander is more subterranean than the other three species of 
salamander. However, the Jollyville Plateau salamander spends large 
portions of its life in subterranean habitat. Further, the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander has cave-associated forms. The Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamander species are within the same genus, 
entirely aquatic throughout each portion of their life cycles, respire 
through gills, inhabit water of high quality with a narrow range of 
conditions, depend on water from the Edwards Aquifer, and have similar 
predators. The Barton Springs salamander shares these same 
similarities. Based on this information, the Service has determined 
that these species are suitable surrogates for each other.
    Exactly how much these species depend on surface water is unclear, 
but the best available information suggests that the productivity of 
surface habitat is important for individual growth. For example, a 
recent study showed that Jollyville Plateau salamanders had negative 
growth in body length and tail width while using subsurface habitat 
during a drought and that growth did

[[Page 51293]]

not become positive until surface flow returned (Bendik and Gluesenkamp 
2012, pp. 3-4). In addition, the morphological variation found in these 
salamander populations may provide insight into how much time is spent 
in subsurface habitat compared to surface habitat.
    (60) Comment: Another commenter stated that salamander use of 
surface habitat is entirely dependent on rainfall events large enough 
to generate sufficient spring and stream flow. Even after large 
rainfall events, stream flow decreases quickly and dissipates within 
days. As a result, the salamanders are predominately underground 
species because groundwater is far more abundant and sustainable.
    Our Response: See our response to previous comment.
    (61) Comment: Several commenters stated that there is insufficient 
data on long-term flow patterns of the springs and creek and on the 
correlation of flow, water quality, habitat, ecology, and community 
response to make a listing determination. Commenters propose that 
additional studies be conducted to evaluate hydrology and surface 
recharge area, and water quality.
    Our Response: We agree that there is a need for more study on the 
hydrology of salamander sites, but there is enough data available on 
the threats to these species to make a listing determination. We make 
our listing determinations based on the five listing factors, singly or 
in combination, as described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act.
Pesticides
    (62) Comment: Claims of pesticides posing a significant threat are 
unsubstantiated. The references cited in the proposed rule are in some 
cases misquoted, and others are refuted by more robust analysis. The 
water quality monitoring reports, as noted in the proposed rule, 
indicate that pesticides were found at levels below criteria set in the 
aquatic life protection section of the Texas Surface Water Quality 
Standards, and they were most often at sites with urban or partly urban 
watersheds. This information conflicts with the statement that the 
frequency and duration of exposure to harmful levels of pesticides have 
been largely unknown or undocumented.
    Our Response: We recognize there are uncertainties about the degree 
to which different pesticides may be impacting water quality and 
salamander health across the range of the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders, but the very nature of pesticides being designed 
to control unwanted organisms through toxicological mechanisms and 
their persistence in the environment makes them pose an inherent risk 
to nontarget species. Numerous studies have documented the presence of 
pesticides in water, particularly areas impacted by urbanization and 
agriculture, and there is ample evidence that full life-cycle and 
multigenerational exposures to dozens of chemicals, even at low 
concentrations, contribute to declines in the abundance and diversity 
of aquatic species. Few pesticides or their breakdown products have 
been tested for multigenerational effects to amphibians, and many do 
not have an applicable State or Federal water quality standard. For 
these reasons, we maintain that commercial and residential pesticide 
use contributes to habitat degradation and poses a threat to the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders, as well as the aquatic 
organisms that comprise their diet.
    (63) Comment: There were no detections of insecticides or 
fungicides in a USGS monitoring program that analyzed for 52 soluble 
pesticide residues in the Barton Springs aquifer from 2003 through 2005 
(Maher et al. 2006). This same study found the highest atrazine 
concentrations detected was about 0.08 [micro]g/L in a sample from 
Upper Spring, indicated as 40 times lower than levels of concern (Maher 
et al. 2006). The maximum value of 0.44 [micro]g/L cited from older 
USGS monitoring data, though still lower than levels of concern, 
appears to be abnormally high and not representative of actual 
exposure. The body of evidence available strongly suggests that 
historical levels of pesticide residues in the aquifers inhabited by 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders have always been 
low and are diminishing.
    Our Response: We agree that levels of pesticides documented in 
Barton Springs and other surface water bodies of the Edwards Aquifer 
often occur at relatively low concentrations; nevertheless, we believe 
they are capable of negatively impacting habitat quality and salamander 
health. Barton Springs in particular is an artesian spring with high 
flows that would serve to dilute pollutants that are introduced to the 
system via storm events, irrigation runoff, or other non-point sources 
and may, therefore, not be representative of pesticide concentrations 
in springs throughout the range of the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders. Furthermore, persistent compounds that 
bioaccumulate could enter aquatic systems at low levels, but 
nevertheless reach levels of concern in sediments and biological 
tissues over time. We agree that pesticide residues would be expected 
to be low historically in the aquifer, but we disagree that pesticides 
are decreasing. No citation was provided by the commenter to 
substantiate this claim. We believe that, with projected human 
population growth, the frequency and concentration of pesticides in the 
environment will increase in the future.
    (64) Comment: The Service cites Rohr et al. (2003, p. 2,391) 
indicating that carbaryl causes mortalities and deformities in 
streamside salamanders (Ambystoma barbouri). However, Rohr et al. 
(2003, p. 2,391) actually found that larval survival was reduced by the 
highest concentrations of carbaryl tested (50 [mu]g/L) over a 37-day 
exposure period. Rohr et al. (2003, p. 2,391) also found that embryo 
survival and growth was not affected, and hatching was not delayed in 
the 37 days of carbaryl exposure. In the same study, exposure to 400 
[mu]g/L of atrazine over 37 days (the highest dose tested) had no 
effect on larval or embryo survival, hatching, or growth. A Scientific 
Advisory Panel (SAP) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 
reviewed available information regarding atrazine effects on 
amphibians, including the Hayes (2002) study cited by the Service, and 
concluded that atrazine appeared to have no effect on clawed frog 
(Xenopus laevis) development at atrazine concentrations ranging from 
0.01 to 100 [micro]g/L. These studies do not support the Service's 
conclusions.
    Our Response: We do not believe that our characterization of Rohr 
et al. (2003) misrepresented the results of the study. In their 
conclusions, Rohr et al. (2003, p. 2,391) state, ``Carbaryl caused 
significant larval mortality at the highest concentration and produced 
the greatest percent of malformed larvae, but did not significantly 
affect behavior relative to controls. Although atrazine did not induce 
significant mortality, it did seem to affect motor function.'' This 
study clearly demonstrates that these two pesticides can have an impact 
on amphibian biology and behavior. In addition, the EPA (2007, p. 9) 
also found that carbaryl is likely to adversely affect the Barton 
Springs salamander both directly and indirectly through reduction of 
prey.
    Regarding the Hayes (2002) study, we acknowledge that an SAP of the 
EPA reviewed this information and concluded that atrazine 
concentrations less than 100 [micro]g/L had no effects on clawed frogs 
in 2007. However, the 2012 SAP did reexamine the conclusions of the 
2007 SAP using a meta-analysis of published studies along with 
additional studies on more species (EPA 2012, p. 35). The 2012 SAP 
expressed concern

[[Page 51294]]

that some studies were discounted in the 2007 SAP analysis, including 
studies like Hayes (2002) that indicated that atrazine is linked to 
endocrine disruption in amphibians (EPA 2012, p. 35). In addition, the 
2007 SAP noted that their results on clawed frogs are insufficient to 
make global conclusions about the effects of atrazine on all amphibian 
species (EPA 2012, p. 33). Accordingly, the 2012 SAP has recommended 
further testing on at least three amphibian species before a conclusion 
can be reached that atrazine has no effect on amphibians at 
concentrations less than 100 [micro]g/L (EPA 2012, p. 33). Due to 
potential differences in species sensitivity, exposure scenarios that 
may include dozens of chemical stressors simultaneously, and 
multigenerational effects that are not fully understood, we continue to 
view pesticides in general, including carbaryl, atrazine, and many 
others to which aquatic organisms may be exposed, as a potential threat 
to water quality, salamander health, and the health of aquatic 
organisms that comprise the diet of salamanders.
Impervious Cover
    (65) Comment: One commenter stated that, in the draft impervious 
cover analysis, the Service has provided no data to prove a cause and 
effect relationship between impervious cover and the status of surface 
salamander sites or the status of underground habitat.
    Our Response: Peer reviewers agreed that we used the best available 
scientific information in regard to the link between urbanization, 
water quality, and salamander populations.
    (66) Comment: On page 18 of the draft impervious cover analysis, 
the Service dismisses the role and effectiveness of water quality 
controls to mitigate the effects of impervious cover: ``. . . the 
effectiveness of storm water runoff measures, such as passive filtering 
systems, is largely unknown in terms of mitigating the effects of 
watershed-scale urbanization.'' The Service recognized the 
effectiveness of such storm water runoff measures in the final rule 
listing the Barton Springs salamander as endangered in 1997. Since 
1997, the Service has separately concurred that the water quality 
controls imposed in the Edwards Aquifer area protect the Barton Springs 
salamander.
    Our Response: Since 1997, water quality and Jollyville Plateau 
salamander counts have declined at several salamander sites, as 
described under Factor A in the final listing rule. This is in spite of 
water quality control measures implemented in the Edwards Aquifer area. 
Further discussion of these measures can be found under Factor D in 
this final listing rule.
    (67) Comment: The springshed, as defined in the draft impervious 
cover analysis, is a misnomer because the so-called springsheds 
delineated in the study are not the contributing or recharge area for 
the studied springs. Calling a surface area that drains to a specific 
stretch of a creek a springshed is disingenuous and probably misleading 
to less informed readers.
    Our Response: We acknowledge that the term springshed may be 
confusing to readers, and we have thus replaced this term with the 
descriptors ``surface drainage area of a spring'' or ``surface 
watershed of a spring'' throughout the final listing rule and 
impervious cover analysis document.
    (68) Comment: Page 18 of the draft impervious cover analysis 
states, ``. . . clearly-delineated recharge areas that flow to specific 
springs have not been identified for any of these spring sites; 
therefore, we could not examine impervious cover levels on recharge 
areas to better understand how development in those areas may impact 
salamander habitat.'' This statement is not accurate with respect to 
the springs in which the Austin Blind salamander has been observed. 
Numerous studies, including several dye studies, have been conducted on 
the recharge area for these springs. Enclosed with this letter are 
seven studies that describe the ``springshed'' for these springs. 
Further, Barton Springs Pool is largely isolated from Barton Creek due 
to dams and bypass structures except during larger rainfall events when 
the creek tops the upstream dam. That the draft impervious cover 
analysis misses these obvious and widely known facts indicates a 
fundamental misunderstanding of how the Barton Springs segment of the 
Edwards Aquifer operates.
    Our Response: We acknowledge that the recharge area for Barton 
Springs is much better studied compared to springs for other central 
Texas salamanders, and we have incorporated this information in the 
final impervious cover analysis. We are also aware of the upstream dam 
above Barton Springs. However, this dam does not isolate the springs 
from threats occurring within the surface watershed. We believe the 
surface watershed of Barton Springs does play a role in determining the 
overall habitat quality of this site. For example, development in the 
surface watershed may increase the frequency and severity of flood 
events that top the upstream dam. These floods contain contaminants and 
sediments that accumulate in Barton Springs (Geismar 2005, p. 2; COA 
2007a, p. 4).
    (69) Comment: During the first public comment period, many entities 
submitted comments and information directing the Service's attention to 
the actual data on water quality in the affected creeks and springs. 
Given the amount of water quality data available to the Service and the 
public, the Texas Salamander Coalition is concerned that the Service 
continues to ignore local data and instead focuses on impervious cover 
and impervious cover studies conducted in other parts of the country 
without regard to existing water quality regulations. Why use models, 
generic data, and concepts when actual data on the area of concern is 
readily available?
    Our Response: The Service has examined and incorporated all water 
quality data submitted during the public comment periods. However, the 
vast majority of salamander sites are still lacking long-term 
monitoring data that are necessary to make conclusions on the status of 
the site's water quality. The impervious cover analysis allows us to 
quantify this specific threat for sites where information is lacking.
    (70) Comment: Spicewood Springs, proposed critical habitat Unit 31 
for the Jollyville Plateau salamander, was fully built out prior to 
1995. No open space exists within Unit 31 aside from the narrow wooded 
area along an unnamed tributary. Impervious cover in Unit 31 exceeds 55 
percent. Impervious cover within the Spicewood Springs surface 
watershed exceeds 50 percent. Development has almost certainly led to 
bank erosion, increased velocity, decreased water depths, fill from 
construction activities, and stream maintenance and stabilization. 
These modifications have altered the natural and traditional character 
of the tributary in which Spicewood Springs are located. Extensive, 
historic impervious cover in the watershed (55 percent) and the 
subsequent baseline water quality has not eliminated Jollyville Plateau 
salamander at the spring, documenting that the threat of the habitat 
degradation is absent in Unit 31. By the criteria in the proposed rule, 
the Jollyville Plateau salamander should no longer occupy Spicewood 
Springs because the impervious cover is greater than 15 percent and has 
been for 30 years. However, Jollyville Plateau salamanders have been 
found by the COA in 1996 after which most of the development in the 
area was complete. Further, recent water quality sampling by SWCA shows 
baseline levels of almost all contaminants. Any future added impervious 
cover is not likely to significantly reduce the current amount

[[Page 51295]]

of groundwater recharging. Groundwater depletion may also result from 
groundwater extraction. Review of the Texas Water Development Board 
data indicates no Edwards formation water wells are in the area.
    Our Response: Numerous variables affect the extent to which any 
given spring may be impacted by surrounding land uses and human 
activities that occur both within the immediate watershed and in areas 
of groundwater recharge. Some springs may be more resistant or 
resilient to increased pollution loading due to high flow volume, 
extensive subsurface habitat, or other physical, chemical, or 
biological features that ameliorate the effects of environmental 
stressors. Impervious cover estimates are a useful tool to indicate the 
likelihood of injury to aquatic resources, but there are exceptions. 
However, the scientific literature overwhelmingly indicates a strong 
pattern of lower water quality and aquatic biodiversity in the presence 
of increasing levels of impervious cover.
Disease
    (71) Comment: The Service concludes in the proposed rule that 
chytrid fungus is not a threat to any of the salamanders. The Service's 
justification for this conclusion is that they have no data to indicate 
whether impacts from this disease may increase or decrease in the 
future. There appears to be inconsistency in how the information 
regarding threats is used.
    Our Response: Threats are assessed by their imminence and 
magnitude. Currently, we have no data to indicate that chytrid fungus 
is a significant threat to the species. The few studies that have 
looked for chytrid fungus in central Texas Eurycea found the fungus, 
but no associated pathology was found within several populations and 
among different salamander species.
    (72) Comment: The statement about chytrid fungus having been 
documented on Austin blind salamanders in the wild is incorrect. 
Chytrid fungus has only been documented on captive Austin blind 
salamanders. The appropriate citation for this is Chamberlain 2011, 
COA, (pers. comm.), not O'Donnell et al. 2006, as cited in the proposed 
rule.
    Our Response: This statement has been corrected in the final 
listing rule.
Climate Change
    (73) Comment: Climate change has already increased the intensity 
and frequency of extreme rainfall events globally (numerous references) 
and in central Texas. This increase in rainfall extremes means more 
runoff possibly overwhelming the capacity of recharge features. This 
has implications for water storage. Implications are that the number of 
runoff events recharging the aquifer with a higher concentration of 
toxic pollutants than past events will be occurring more frequently, 
likely in an aquifer with a lower overall volume of water to dilute 
pollutants. Understanding high concentration toxicity needs to be 
evaluated in light of this.
    Our Response: We agree that climate change will likely result in 
less frequent recharge, affecting both water quantity and quality of 
springs throughout the aquifer. We have added language in the final 
listing rule to further describe the threat of climate change and 
impacts to water quality.
    (74) Comment: The section of the proposed rule addressing climate 
change fails to include any consideration or description of a baseline 
central Texas climate. The proposed rule describes flooding and drought 
as threats, but fails to provide any serious contextual analysis of the 
role of droughts and floods in the life history of the central Texas 
salamanders.
    Our Response: The proposed and final listing rules discuss the 
threats of drought conditions and flooding, both in the context of 
naturally occurring weather patterns and as a result of anthropogenic 
activities.
    (75) Comment: The flooding analysis is one of several examples in 
the proposed rule in which the Service cites events measured on micro-
scales of time and area, and fails to comprehend the larger ecosystem 
at work. For example, the proposed rule describes one flood event 
causing ``erosion, scouring the streambed channel, the loss of large 
rocks, and creation of several deep pools.'' Scouring and depositing 
sediment are both normal results of the intense rainfall events in 
central Texas.
    Our Response: While we agree that scouring and sediment deposition 
are normal hydrologic processes, when the frequency and intensity of 
these events is altered by climate change, urbanization, or other 
anthropogenic forces, the resulting impacts to ecosystems can be more 
detrimental than what would occur naturally.
Other Threats
    (76) Comment: The risk of extinction is negatively or inversely 
correlated with population size. Also, small population size, in and of 
itself, can increase the risk of extinction due to demographic 
stochasticity, mutation accumulation, and genetic drift. The 
correlation between extinction risk and population size is not 
necessarily indirect (that is, due to an additional extrinsic factor 
such as environmental perturbation).
    Our Response: Although we do not consider small population sizes to 
be a threat in and of itself to any of the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders, we do believe that small population sizes make 
them more vulnerable to extinction from other existing or potential 
threats, such as major stochastic events.
Taxonomy
    (77) Comment: The level of genetic divergence among the Jollyville 
Plateau, Georgetown, and Salado salamanders is not sufficiently large 
to justify recognition of three species. The DNA papers indicate a 
strong genetic relationship between individual salamanders found across 
the area. Such a strong relationship necessarily means that on an 
ecosystem-wide basis, the salamanders are exchanging genetic material 
on a regular basis. There is no evidence that any of these salamanders 
are unique species.
    Our Response: The genetic relatedness of the Georgetown salamander, 
Jollyville Plateau salamander, and Salado salamanders is not disputed. 
The three species are included together on a main branch of the tree 
diagrams of mtDNA data (Chippindale et al. 2000, Figs. 4 and 6). The 
tree portraying relationships based on allozymes (genetic markers based 
on differences in proteins coded by genes) is concordant with the mtDNA 
trees (Chippindale et al. 2000, Fig. 5). These trees support the 
evolutionary relatedness of the three species, but not their identity 
as a single species. The lack of sharing of mtDNA haplotype markers, 
existence of unique allozyme alleles in each of the three species, and 
multiple morphological characters diagnostic of each of the three 
species are inconsistent with the assertion that they are exchanging 
genetic material on a regular basis. The Austin blind salamander is on 
an entirely different branch of the tree portraying genetic 
relationships among these species based on mtDNA and has diagnostic, 
morphological characters that distinguish it from other Texas 
salamanders (Hillis et al. 2001, p. 267). Based on our review of these 
differences, and taking into account the views expressed in peer 
reviews by expert taxonomists, we believe that the currently available 
evidence is sufficient for recognizing these salamanders as four 
separate species.
    (78) Comment: A genetics professor commented that Forstner's report 
(2012) disputing the taxonomy of the Austin

[[Page 51296]]

blind, Georgetown, Jollyville Plateau, and Salado salamanders 
represents a highly flawed analysis that has not undergone peer review. 
It is not a true taxonomic analysis of the Eurycea complex and does not 
present any evidence that call into question the current taxonomy of 
the salamanders. Forstner's (2012) report is lacking key information 
regarding exact methodology and analysis. It is not entirely clear what 
resulting length of base pairs was used in the phylogenetic analysis 
and the extent to which the data set was supplemented with missing or 
ambiguous data. The amount of sequence data versus missing data is 
important for understanding and interpreting the subsequent analysis. 
It also appears as though Forstner included all individuals with 
available, unique sequence when, in fact, taxonomic sampling--that is, 
the number of individuals sampled within a particular taxon compared 
with other taxa--can also affect the accuracy of the resulting 
topology. The Forstner (2012) report only relies on mitochondrial DNA 
whereas the original taxonomic descriptions of these species relied on 
a combination of nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA, as well as morphology 
(Chippindale et al. 2000, Hillis et al. 2001). Forstner's (2012) report 
does not consider non-genetic factors such as ecology and morphology 
when evaluating taxonomic differences. Despite the limitations of a 
mitochondrial DNA-only analysis, Forstner's (2012) report actually 
contradicts an earlier report by the same author that also relied only 
on mtDNA.
    Our Response: This comment supports the Service's and our peer 
reviewers' interpretation of the best available data (see Responses to 
Comments 1 through 5 above).
    (79) Comment: Forstner (2012) argues that the level of genetic 
divergence among the three species of Texas Eurycea is not sufficiently 
large to justify recognition of three species. A genetics professor 
commented that this conclusion is overly simplistic. It is not clear 
that the populations currently called Eurycea lucifuga in reality 
represent a single species, as Forstner (2012) assumes. Almost all 
cases of new species in the United States for the last 20 years (E. 
waterlooensis is a rare exception) have resulted from DNA techniques 
used to identify new species that are cryptic, meaning their similarity 
obscured the genetic distinctiveness of the species. One could view the 
data on Eurycea lucifuga as supporting that cryptic species are also 
present. Moreover, Forstner's (2012) comparison was made to only one 
species, rather than to salamanders generally. Moreover, there is 
perhaps a problem with the Harlan and Zigler (2009) data. They 
sequenced 10 specimens of E. lucifuga, all from Franklin County, 
Tennessee; 9 of these show genetic distances between each other from 
0.1 to 0.3 percent, which is very low. One specimen shows genetic 
distance to all other nine individuals from 1.7 to 1.9 percent, an 
order of magnitude higher. This single specimen is what causes the high 
level of genetic divergence to which Forstner compares the Eurycea. 
This discrepancy is extremely obvious in the Harlan and Zigler (2009) 
paper, but was not mentioned by Forstner (2012). A difference of an 
order of magnitude in 1 specimen of 10 is highly suspect, and, 
therefore, these data should not be used as a benchmark in comparing 
Eurycea.
    The second argument in Forstner (2012) is that the phylogenetic 
tree does not group all individuals of a given species into the same 
cluster or lineage. Forstner's (2012) conclusions are overly 
simplistic. The failure of all sequences of Eurycea tonkawae to cluster 
closely with each other is due to the amount of missing data in some 
sequences. It is well known in the phylogenetics literature that 
analyzing sequences with very different data (in other words, large 
amounts of missing data) will produce incorrect results because of this 
artifact. As an aside, why is there missing data? The reason is that 
these data were produced roughly 5 years apart. The shorter sequences 
were made at a time when lengths of 350 bases for cytochrome b were 
standard because of the limitations of the technology. As improved and 
cheaper methods were available (about 5 to 6 years later), it became 
possible to collect sequences that were typically 1,000 to 1,100 bases 
long. It is important to remember that the data used to support the 
original description of the three northern species by Chippindale et 
al. (2000) were not only cytochrome b sequences, but also data from a 
different, but effective, analysis of other genes, as well as analysis 
of external characteristics. Forstner's (2012) assessment of the 
taxonomic status (species or not) of the three species of the northern 
group is not supported by the purported evidence that he presents (much 
of it unpublished).
    Our Response: This comment supports the Service's and our peer 
reviewers' interpretation of the best available data (see Responses to 
Comments 1 through 5 above).
    (80) Comment: Until the scientific community determines the 
appropriate systematic approach to identify the number of species, it 
seems imprudent to elevate the salamanders to endangered.
    Our Response: The Service must base its listing determinations on 
the best available scientific and commercial information, and such 
information includes considerations of correct taxonomy. To ensure the 
appropriateness of our own analysis of the relevant taxonomic 
literature, we sought peer reviews from highly qualified taxonomists, 
particularly with specialization on salamander taxonomy, of our 
interpretation of the available taxonomic literature and unpublished 
reports. We believe that careful analysis and peer review is the best 
way to determine whether any particular taxonomic arrangement is likely 
to be generally accepted by experts in the field. The peer reviews that 
we received provide overall support, based on the available 
information, for the species that we accept as valid in the final 
listing rule.
Technical Information
    (81) Comment: Clarify whether the distance given for the Austin 
blind salamander extending ``at least 984 feet (ft) (300 meters (m) 
underground'' is a vertical depth or horizontal distance.
    Our Response: It is a horizontal distance. This has been clarified 
in the final listing rule.
    (82) Comment: The Service made the following statement in the 
proposed rule: ``Therefore, the status of subsurface populations is 
largely unknown, making it difficult to assess the effects of threats 
on the subsurface populations and their habitat.'' In fact, the 
difficulty of assessing threats for subsurface populations depends upon 
the threats. One can more easily assess threats of chemical pollutants, 
for example, because subterranean populations will be affected 
similarly to surface ones because they inhabit the same or similar 
water.
    Our Response: The statement above was meant to demonstrate the 
problems associated with not knowing how many salamanders exist in 
subsurface habitat rather than how threats are identified. We have 
removed the statement in the final listing rule to eliminate this 
confusion.
    (83) Comment: In addition to the references cited in the proposed 
rule, Bowles et al. (2006) also documents evidence of reproduction 
throughout the year in Jollyville Plateau salamanders.
    Our Response: We examined the published article by Bowles et al. 
(2006, pp. 114, 116, 118), and found that, while there were juvenile 
salamanders observed nearly year-round, there was

[[Page 51297]]

also evidence of a seasonal reproduction pattern among their study's 
findings. We have included this information in the final listing rule.
    (84) Comment: Geologists with the COA have extensively reviewed the 
possibility that a small test well caused the dewatering of Moss Gully 
Spring, as discussed in the proposed rule, and have been unable to 
substantiate that theory. In fact, the boring was drilled near the 
spring in 1985, and the spring was found to have significant flow and a 
robust Jollyville Plateau salamander population in the early 1990s. 
Reduction in flow and a smaller salamander population was observed at 
Moss Gully Spring around 2005 or 2006, but there had been no changes to 
the boring. Subsequent groundwater tracing also failed to delineate a 
definitive connection between the well and the spring.
    Our Response: Given the existing uncertainty that dewatering at 
this site was caused by the 1985 test well, we have removed the 
discussion of Moss Gully Spring from the final listing rule.
    (85) Comment: The discussion of the COA's Water Treatment Plant 4 
project in the proposed rule could be misconstrued as posing a threat 
to the Jollyville Plateau salamander.
    Our Response: We agree that construction and operation of the 
Jollyville Transmission Main tunnel, including associated vertical 
shafts, is unlikely to adversely affect the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander due to best management practices and environmental 
monitoring implemented by the COA. We have modified this discussion in 
the final listing rule to clarify our assessment.

Changes From Proposed Listing Rule

    On August 22, 2012 (77 FR 50768), we published a proposed rule to 
list the Jollyville Plateau salamander as endangered. Based on 
additional information we received during the comment period on the 
proposed rule and after further analysis of the magnitude and imminence 
of threats to the species, we are listing the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander as a threatened species in this final rule. For more 
detailed information, please see Listing Determination for the 
Jollyville Plateau Salamander below.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 424) 
set forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. A species may be 
determined to be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more 
of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act: (A) The 
present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its 
habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or 
manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Listing actions may 
be warranted based on any of the above threat factors, singly or in 
combination. Each of these factors is discussed below.

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

    Habitat modification, in the form of degraded water quality and 
quantity and disturbance of spring sites, is the primary threat to the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. Water quality 
degradation in salamander habitat has been cited as the top concern in 
several studies (Chippindale et al. 2000, pp. 36, 40, 43; Hillis et al. 
2001, p. 267; Bowles et al. 2006, pp. 118-119; O'Donnell et al. 2006, 
pp. 45-50). These salamanders spend their entire life cycle in water. 
All of the species have evolved under natural aquifer conditions both 
underground and as the water discharges from natural spring outlets. 
Deviations from high water quality and quantity have detrimental 
effects on salamander ecology because the aquatic habitat can be 
rendered unsuitable for salamanders by changes in water chemistry and 
flow patterns. Substrate modification is also a major concern for the 
salamander species (COA 2001, pp. 101, 126; Geismar 2005, p. 2; 
O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 34). Unobstructed interstitial space is a 
critical component to the surface habitat for the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders, because it provides cover from 
predators and habitat for their macroinvertebrate prey items within 
surface sites. When the interstitial spaces become compacted or filled 
with fine sediment, the amount of available foraging habitat and 
protective cover for salamanders is reduced (Welsh and Ollivier 1998, 
p. 1,128).
    Threats to the habitat of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders (including those that affect water quality, water quantity, 
or the physical habitat) may affect only the surface habitat, only the 
subsurface habitat, or both habitat types. For example, substrate 
modification degrades the surface springs and spring-runs, but does not 
impact the subsurface environment, while water quality degradation can 
impact both the surface and subsurface habitats, depending on whether 
the degrading elements are moving through groundwater or are running 
off the ground surface into a spring area (surface watershed). Our 
assessment of water quality threats from urbanization is largely 
focused on surface watersheds. Impacts to subsurface areas are also 
likely to occur from urbanization over recharge zones within the 
Edwards Aquifer region; however, these impacts are more difficult to 
assess given the limited information available on subsurface flows and 
drainage areas that feed into these subsurface flows to the springs and 
cave locations. These recharge areas are additional pathways for 
impacts to the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders to occur 
that we are not able to precisely assess at each known salamander site. 
However, we can consider urbanization and various other sources of 
impacts to water quality and quantity over the larger recharge zone to 
the aquifer (as opposed to individual springs) to assess the potential 
for impacts at salamander sites.
    The threats under Factor A will be presented in reference to 
stressors and sources. We consider a stressor to be a physical, 
chemical, or biological alteration that can induce an adverse response 
from an individual salamander. These alterations can act directly on an 
individual or act indirectly on an individual through impacts to 
resources the species requires for feeding, breeding, or sheltering. A 
source is the origin from which the stressor (or alteration) arises. 
The majority of the discussion below under Factor A focuses on 
evaluating the nature and extent of stressors and their sources related 
to urbanization, the primary source of water quality degradation, 
within the ranges of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders. Additionally, other stressors causing habitat destruction 
and modification, including water quantity degradation and physical 
disturbance to surface habitat, will be addressed.

Water Quality Degradation

Urbanization
    Urbanization is the concentration of human populations into 
discrete areas, leading to transformation of land for residential, 
commercial, industrial, and transportation purposes. It is one of the 
most significant sources of water quality degradation that can affect 
the future survival of central Texas salamanders (Bowles et al. 2006, 
p. 119; Chippindale and Price 2005, pp. 196-197). Urban development 
leads to various stressors

[[Page 51298]]

on spring systems, including increased frequency and magnitude of high 
flows in streams, increased sedimentation, increased contamination and 
toxicity, and changes in stream morphology and water chemistry (Coles 
et al. 2012, pp. 1-3, 24, 38, 50-51). Urbanization can also impact 
aquatic species by negatively affecting their invertebrate prey base 
(Coles et al. 2012, p. 4).
    The ranges of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
reside within increasingly urbanized areas of Travis and Williamson 
Counties that are experiencing rapid human population growth. For 
example, the population of the COA grew from 251,808 people in 1970 to 
656,562 people in 2000. By 2007, the population had grown to 735,088 
people (COA 2007b, p. 1). This represents a 192 percent increase over 
the 37-year period. Population projections from the Texas State Data 
Center (2012, pp. 496-497) estimate that Travis County will increase in 
population from 1,024,266 in 2010, to 1,990,820 in 2050. This would be 
a 94 percent increase in the human population size over this 40-year 
period. The Texas State Data Center also estimates an increase in human 
population in Williamson County from 422,679 in 2010 to 2,015,294 in 
2050, exceeding the size of Travis County. This would represent a 477 
percent increase over a 40-year timeframe. All human population 
projections from the Texas State Data Center presented here are under a 
high growth scenario, which assumes that migration rates from 2000 to 
2010 will continue through 2050 (Texas State Data Center and the Office 
of the State Demographer 2012, p. 9). By comparison, the national 
United States' population is expected to increase from 310,233,000 in 
2010, to 439, 010,000 in 2050, which is about a 42 percent increase 
over the 40-year period (U.S. Census Bureau 2008, p. 1). Growing human 
populations increase demand for residential and commercial development, 
drinking water supply, wastewater disposal, flood control, and other 
municipal goods and services that alter the environment, often 
degrading salamander habitat by changing hydrologic regimes, and 
affecting the quantity and quality of water resources.
    As development increases within the watersheds where the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders occur, more opportunities 
exist for the detrimental effects of urbanization to impact salamander 
habitat. A comprehensive study by the USGS found that, across the 
United States, contaminants, habitat destruction, and increasing 
streamflow flashiness (rapid response of large increases of streamflow 
to storm events) resulting from urban development have been associated 
with the disruption of biological communities, particularly the loss of 
sensitive aquatic species (Coles et al. 2012, p. 1).
    Several researchers have also examined the negative impact of 
urbanization on stream salamander habitat by making connections between 
salamander abundances and levels of development within the watershed. 
In 1972, Orser and Shure (p. 1,150) were among the first biologists to 
show a decrease in stream salamander density with increasing urban 
development. A similar relationship between salamanders and 
urbanization was found in North Carolina (Price et al. 2006, pp. 437-
439; Price et al. 2012, p. 198), Maryland, and Virginia (Grant et al. 
2009, pp. 1,372-1,375). Willson and Dorcas (2003, pp. 768-770) 
demonstrated the importance of examining disturbance within the entire 
watershed as opposed to areas just adjacent to the stream by showing 
that salamander abundance is most closely related to the amount and 
type of habitat within the entire watershed. In central Texas, Bowles 
et al. (2006, p. 117) found lower Jollyville Plateau salamander 
densities in tributaries with developed watersheds as compared to 
tributaries with undeveloped watersheds. Developed tributaries also had 
higher concentrations of chloride, magnesium, nitrate-nitrogen, 
potassium, sodium, and sulfate (Bowles et al. 2006, p. 117).
    The impacts that result from urbanization can affect the physiology 
of individual salamanders. An unpublished study (Gabor 2012, Texas 
State University, pers. comm.) has demonstrated that Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders in disturbed habitats have greater stress levels than those 
in undisturbed habitats, as determined by measurements of water-borne 
stress hormones in disturbed (urbanized) and undisturbed streams (Gabor 
2012, Texas State University, pers. comm.). Chronic stress can decrease 
survival of individuals and may lead to a decrease in reproduction. 
Both of these factors may partially account for the decrease in 
abundance of salamanders in streams within disturbed environments 
(Gabor 2012, Texas State University, pers. comm.).
    Urbanization occurring within the watersheds of the Austin blind 
and Jollyville Plateau salamanders could cause irreversible declines or 
extirpation of salamander populations with continuous exposure over a 
relatively short time span. We consider this to be an ongoing threat of 
high impact for the Jollyville Plateau salamander that is expected to 
increase in the future as development within its range expands.
    Impervious cover is another source of water quality degradation and 
is directly correlated with urbanization (Coles et al. 2012, p. 30). 
For this reason, impervious cover is often used as a surrogate for 
urbanization (Schueler et al. 2009, p. 309), even though it does not 
account for many sources of water quality degradation associated with 
urbanization, including human population density, fertilizer and 
pesticide use, septic tanks, and fuel storage and transport. Impervious 
cover is any surface material that prevents water from filtering into 
the soil, such as roads, rooftops, sidewalks, patios, paved surfaces, 
or compacted soil (Arnold and Gibbons 1996, p. 244). Once vegetation in 
a watershed is replaced with impervious cover, rainfall is converted to 
surface runoff instead of filtering through the ground (Schueler 1991, 
p. 114). Such urbanized development in a watershed may: (1) Alter the 
hydrology or movement of water through a watershed, (2) increase the 
inputs of contaminants to levels that greatly exceed those found 
naturally in streams, and (3) alter habitats in and near streams that 
provide living spaces for aquatic species (Coles et al. 2012, p. 38), 
such as the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. During 
periods of high precipitation levels, stormwater runoff in urban areas 
can enter recharge areas of the Edwards Aquifer and rapidly transport 
sediment, fertilizer nutrients, and toxic contaminants (such as 
pesticides, metals, and petroleum hydrocarbons) to salamander habitat.
    Both nationally and locally, consistent relationships between 
impervious cover and water quality degradation through contaminant 
loading have been documented. In a study of contaminant input from 
various land use areas in Austin, stormwater runoff loads were found to 
increase with increasing impervious cover (COA 1990, pp. 12-14). This 
study also found that contaminant input rates of the more urbanized 
watersheds were higher than those of the small suburban watersheds. 
Soeur et al. (1995, p. 565) determined that stormwater contaminant 
loading positively correlated with development intensity in Austin. In 
a study of 38 small watersheds in the Austin area, several different 
contaminants were found to be positively correlated with impervious 
cover (5-day biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand, 
ammonia, dissolved phosphorus, copper, lead, and zinc)

[[Page 51299]]

(COA 2006, p. 35). Using stream data from 1958 to 2007 at 24 Austin-
area sites, some of which are located within watersheds occupied by 
Austin blind salamanders and Jollyville Plateau salamanders, Glick et 
al. (2009, p. 9) found that the COA's water quality index had a strong 
negative correlation with impervious cover. Veenhuis and Slade (1990, 
pp. 18-61) also reported mean concentrations of most water quality 
constituents, such as total suspended solids and other pollutants, are 
lower in undeveloped watersheds than those for urban watersheds.
    Impervious cover has demonstrable impacts on biological communities 
within streams. Schueler (1994, p. 104) found that sites receiving 
runoff from high impervious cover drainage areas had sensitive aquatic 
macroinvertebrate species replaced by species more tolerant of 
pollution and hydrologic stress (high rate of changes in discharges 
over short periods of time). An analysis of nine regions across the 
United States found considerable losses of algal, invertebrate, and 
fish species in response to stressors brought about by urban 
development (Coles et al. 2012, p. 58). In an analysis of 43 North 
Carolina streams, Miller et al. (2007, pp. 78-79) found a strong 
negative relationship between impervious cover and the abundance of 
larval southern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera). The COA 
cited five declining salamander populations from 1997 to 2006: Balcones 
District Park Spring, Tributary 3, Tributary 5, Tributary 6, and 
Spicewood Tributary (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 4). All of these 
populations occur within surface watersheds containing more than 10 
percent impervious cover (Service 2013, pp. 9-11). Springs with 
relatively low amounts of impervious cover (6.77 and 0 percent for 
Franklin and Wheless Springs, respectively) in their surface drainage 
areas tend to have generally stable or increasing salamander 
populations (Bendik 2011a, pp. 18-19). Bendik (2011a, pp. 26-27) 
reported statistically significant declines in Jollyville Plateau 
salamander populations over a 13-year period at six monitored sites 
with high impervious cover (18 to 46 percent) compared to two sites 
with low impervious cover (less than 1 percent). These results are 
consistent with Bowles et al. (2006, p. 111), who found lower densities 
of Jollyville Plateau salamanders at urbanized sites compared to non-
urbanized sites.
    We recognize that the long-term survey data of Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders using simple counts may not give conclusive evidence on the 
long-term trend of the population at each site. However, based on the 
threats and evidence from the literature, the declines in counts seen 
at urban Jollyville Plateau salamander sites are likely real declines 
in the population. We expect downward trends in salamander populations 
to continue into the future as human population growth and urbanization 
drive further declines in habitat quality and quantity.
Impervious Cover Analysis
    For this final rule, we calculated impervious cover within the 
watersheds occupied by the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders. In this analysis, we delineated the surface areas that 
drain into spring sites and which of these sites may be experiencing 
habitat quality degradation as a result of impervious cover in the 
surface drainage area. However, we only examined surface drainage areas 
for each spring site for the Jollyville Plateau salamander because we 
did not know the recharge area for specific spring or cave sites. This 
information was available for the Austin blind salamander and the 
Barton Springs system. Another limitation of this analysis is that we 
did not account for riparian (stream edge) buffers or stormwater runoff 
control measures, both of which have the potential to mitigate some of 
the effects of impervious cover on streams (Schueler et al. 2009, pp. 
312-313). Please see the Service's Refined Impervious Cover Analysis 
(Service 2013, pp. 2-7) for a description of the methods used to 
conduct this analysis. This analysis is most likely an underestimation 
of current impervious cover because small areas of impervious cover may 
have gone undetected at the resolution of our analysis and additional 
areas of impervious cover may have been added since 2006, which is the 
year the impervious-cover data for our analysis was generated. We 
compared our results with the results of similar analyses completed by 
SWCA and COA, and impervious-cover percentages at individual sites from 
both analyses were generally higher than our own (Service 2013, 
Appendix C).

Impervious Cover Categories

    We examined studies that report ecological responses to watershed 
impervious- cover levels based on a variety of degradation measurements 
(Service 2013, Table 1, p. 4). Most studies examined biological 
responses to impervious cover (for example, aquatic invertebrate and 
fish diversity), but several studies measured chemical and physical 
responses as well (for example, water quality parameters and stream 
channel modification). The most commonly reported impervious cover 
level at which noticeable degradation to aquatic ecosystems begins to 
occur is approximately 10 percent, with more recent studies reporting 
levels of 10 percent and lower. Recent studies in the eastern United 
States have reported large declines in aquatic macroinvertebrates (the 
prey base of salamanders) at impervious-cover levels as low as 0.5 
percent (King and Baker 2010, p. 1002; King et al. 2011, p. 1664). 
Bowles et al. (2006, pp. 113, 117-118) found lower Jollyville Plateau 
salamander densities in watersheds with more than 10 percent impervious 
cover. To our knowledge, this is the only peer-reviewed study that 
examined watershed impervious-cover effects on salamanders in our study 
area. This is also in agreement with the Center for Watershed 
Protection's impervious-cover model, which predicts that stream health 
begins to decline at 5 to 10 percent impervious cover in small 
watersheds (Schueler et al. 2009, pp. 309, 313). Their prediction is 
based on a meta-analysis of 35 recent research studies (Schueler et al. 
2009, p. 310). However, a USGS investigation found immediate declines 
in aquatic invertebrate communities as soon as the percentage of 
developed land increased from background levels, including areas with 
less than 10 percent impervious cover (Coles et al. 2012, p. 64).
    Various levels of impervious cover within watersheds have been 
cited as having detrimental effects to water quality and biological 
communities within streams (Schueler et al. 2009, pp. 312-313; Coles et 
al. 2012, p. 65). An impervious-cover model generated using data from 
relevant literature by Schueler et al. (2009, p. 313) indicates that 
stream degradation generally increases as impervious cover increases, 
and occurs at impervious cover of 5 to 10 percent. This model predicts 
that streams transition from an ``impacted'' status (clear signs of 
declining stream health) to a ``nonsupporting'' status (no longer 
support their designated uses in terms of hydrology, channel stability, 
habitat, water quality, or biological diversity) at impervious-cover 
levels from 20 to 25 percent. However, a recent national-scale 
investigation of the effects of urban development on stream ecosystems 
revealed that degradation of invertebrate communities can begin at the 
earliest levels of urban development (Coles et al. 2012, p. 64), 
thereby contradicting the resistance thresholds described by Schueler 
(1994, pp. 100-102). Therefore, the lack of a resistance

[[Page 51300]]

threshold in biological responses indicates that no assumptions can be 
made with regard to a ``safe zone'' of impervious cover less than 10 
percent (Coles et al. 2012, p. 64). In light of these studies, we 
created the following impervious cover categories:

     None: 0 percent impervious cover in the watershed
     Low: Greater than 0 percent to 10 percent impervious cover 
in the watershed
     Medium: Greater than 10 percent to 20 percent impervious 
cover in the watershed
     High: Greater than 20 percent impervious cover in the 
watershed
    Sites in the Low category may still be experiencing impacts from 
urbanization, as cited in studies such as Coles et al. (2012, p. 64), 
King et al. (2011, p. 1664), and King and Baker (2010, p. 1002). In 
accordance with the findings of Bowles et al. (2006, pp. 113, 117-118), 
sites in the Medium category are likely experiencing impacts from 
urbanization that are negatively impacting salamander densities. Sites 
in the High category are so degraded that habitat recovery will either 
be impossible or very difficult (Schueler et al. 2009, pp. 310, 313).

Results of Our Impervious Cover Analysis

    We estimated impervious cover percentages for each surface drainage 
area of a spring known to have at least one population of either an 
Austin blind or Jollyville Plateau salamander (cave locations were 
omitted). These estimates and maps of the surface drainage area of 
spring locations are provided in our refined impervious cover analysis 
(Service 2013, pp. 1-25). A total of 114 watersheds were analyzed, 
encompassing a total of 543,269 acres (ac) (219,854 hectares (ha)).
    The Austin blind salamander had three watersheds delineated, one 
for each of the springs where the species is found. Eliza and Parthenia 
Springs had nearly identical large surface drainage areas, while the 
watershed of Sunken Garden (Old Mill) was found to be a much smaller 
area. Even though the level of impervious cover was Low in Eliza and 
Parthenia watersheds, most of the impervious cover occurs within 5 mi 
(8 km) of the springs.
    We also calculated the impervious cover levels for the contributing 
and recharge zones of the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards 
Aquifer. Unlike the known locations for the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander, the sources of subsurface water feeding the sites of Austin 
blind salamander (Barton Springs complex) are fairly well-delineated. 
Barton Springs is the principal discharge point for the Barton Springs 
Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, and recharge throughout most of the 
aquifer converges to this discharge point (Slade et al. 1986, p. 28; 
Johnson et al. 2012, p. 2). Most of the water recharging the Barton 
Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer was believed to be derived from 
percolation through six creeks that cross the recharge zone (Slade et 
al. 1986, pp. 43, 51), but more recent work shows that a significant 
amount of recharge occurs in the upland areas (Hauwert 2009, pp. 212-
213). Approximately 75 percent of the Barton Springs Segment of the 
recharge zone has no impervious cover. Overall, the recharge zone of 
the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer has 6.9 percent 
impervious cover. The contributing zone of the Barton Springs Segment 
has 1.81 percent impervious cover overall.
    For the Jollyville Plateau salamander, a total of 93 watersheds 
were delineated, representing 106 surface sites. The watersheds varied 
greatly in size, ranging from the 3-ac (1-ha) watershed of Cistern 
(Pipe) Spring to the 49,784-ac (20,147-ha) watershed of Brushy Creek 
Spring. Impervious cover also varied greatly among watersheds. Twelve 
watersheds had no impervious cover. Eighty-one of the 93 watersheds had 
some level of impervious cover, with 31 watersheds categorized as High, 
26 as Medium, and 21 as Low. The highest level of impervious cover (48 
percent) was found in the watershed of Troll Spring.
    Based on our analysis of impervious-cover levels in land draining 
across the surface into salamander surface habitat (Service 2013, pp. 
1-25), the Jollyville Plateau salamander had a high proportion of 
watersheds (47 of 93 analyzed) with medium and high levels of 
impervious cover. Conversely, the watersheds encompassing the Austin 
blind salamander were relatively low in impervious cover. No watersheds 
for the Austin blind salamander were classified as medium or high (that 
is, greater than 10 percent impervious cover). In addition, the 
recharge and contributing zones of the Barton Springs segment of the 
Edwards Aquifer were classified as low.
    Although some watersheds in our analysis were classified as low, it 
is important to note that low levels of impervious cover (that is, less 
than 10 percent) may degrade salamander habitat. Recent studies in the 
eastern United States have reported large declines in aquatic 
macroinvertebrates (the prey base of salamanders) at impervious cover 
levels as low as 0.5 percent (King and Baker 2010, p. 1002; King et al. 
2011, p. 1,664). Several authors have argued negative effects to stream 
ecosystems are seen at low levels of impervious cover and gradually 
increase as impervious cover increases (Booth et al. 2002, p. 838; 
Groffman et al. 2006, pp. 5-6; Schueler et al. 2009, p. 313; Coles et 
al. 2012, pp. 4, 64).
    Although general percentages of impervious cover within a watershed 
are helpful in determining the general level of impervious cover within 
watersheds, it does not tell the complete story of how urbanization may 
be affecting salamanders or their habitat. Understanding how a 
salamander might be affected by water quality degradation within its 
habitat requires an examination of where the impervious cover occurs 
and what other threats to water quality (for example, non-point-source 
runoff, highways and other sources of hazardous materials, livestock 
and feral hogs, and gravel and limestone mining) are present within the 
watershed.
    In addition, several studies have demonstrated that the spatial 
arrangement of impervious cover has impacts on aquatic ecosystems. An 
analysis of 42 watersheds in the State of Washington found that certain 
urban pattern variables, such as land use intensity, land cover 
composition, landscape configuration, and connectivity of the 
impervious area are important in predicting effects to aquatic 
ecosystems (Alberti et al. 2007, pp. 355-359). King et al. (2005, pp. 
146-147) found that the closer developed land was to a stream in the 
Chesapeake Bay watershed, the larger the effect it had on stream 
macroinvertebrates. On a national scale, watersheds with development 
clustered in one large area (versus being interspersed throughout the 
watershed), and development located closer to streams had higher 
frequency of high-flow events (Steuer et al. 2010, pp. 47-48, 52). 
Based on these studies, it is likely that the way development is 
situated in the landscape of a surface drainage area of a salamander 
spring site plays a large role in how that development impacts 
salamander habitat.
    One major limitation of this analysis is that we only examined 
surface drainage areas (watersheds) for each spring site for the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander. In addition to the surface habitat, this 
salamander uses the subsurface habitat. Moreover, the base flow of 
water discharging from the springs on the surface comes from 
groundwater sources, which are in turn replenished by recharge features 
on the surface. As Shade et al. (2008, pp. 3-4)

[[Page 51301]]

points out, ``. . . little is known of how water recharges and flows 
through the subsurface in the Northern Segment of the Edwards Aquifer. 
Groundwater flow in karst is often not controlled by surface topography 
and crosses beneath surface water drainage boundaries, so the sources 
and movements of groundwater to springs and caves inhabited by the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander are poorly understood. Such information 
is critical to evaluating the degree to which Jollyville Plateau 
salamander sites can be protected from urbanization.'' So a recharge 
area for a spring may occur within the surface watershed, or it could 
occur many miles away in a completely different watershed. A site 
completely surrounded by development may still contain unexpectedly 
high water quality because that spring's base flow is coming from a 
distant recharge area that is free from impervious cover. While some 
dye tracer work has been done in the Northern Segment (Shade et al. 
2008, p. 4), clearly delineated recharge areas that flow to specific 
springs in the Northern Segment have not been identified for any of 
these spring sites; therefore, we could not examine impervious-cover 
levels on recharge areas to better understand how development in those 
areas may impact salamander habitat.
    Impervious cover by itself within the watersheds of the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders could cause irreversible 
declines or extirpation of populations with continuous exposure to 
water quality degradation stressors over a relatively short timespan. 
Given the current levels of impervious cover within the surface 
watersheds for the Jollyville Plateau salamander, we consider this to 
be a threat of high impact for this species that is expected to 
increase in the future as development within its range expands. 
Although the impervious cover level for the Austin blind salamander 
remains relatively low at the present time, impacts from this threat 
could increase in the future as urbanization expands.
Hazardous Material Spills
    The Edwards Aquifer is at risk from a variety of sources of 
contaminants and pollutants (Ross 2011, p. 4), including hazardous 
materials that have the potential to be spilled or leaked, resulting in 
contamination of both surface and groundwater resources (Service 2005, 
pp. 1.6-14-1.6-15). For example, a number of point-sources of 
pollutants exist within the Jollyville Plateau salamander's range. 
Utility structures such as storage tanks or pipelines (particularly gas 
and sewer lines) can accidentally discharge. Any activity that involves 
the extraction, storage, manufacture, or transport of potentially 
hazardous substances, such as fuels or chemicals, can contaminate water 
resources and cause harm to aquatic life. Spill events can involve a 
short release with immediate impacts, such as a collision that involves 
a tanker truck carrying gasoline. Alternatively, the release can be 
long term, involving the slow release of chemicals over time, such as a 
leaking underground storage tank.
    A peer reviewer for the proposed rule provided information from the 
National Response Center's database of incidents of chemical and 
hazardous materials spills (http://www.nrc.uscg.mil/foia.html) from 
anthropogenic activities including, but not limited to, automobile or 
freight traffic accidents, intentional dumping, storage tanks, and 
industrial facilities. The number of incidents is likely to be an 
underestimate of the total number of incidents because not all 
incidents are discovered or reported. The database produced 450 records 
of spill events (145 that directly affected a body of water) in Travis 
County between 1990 and 2012 and 189 records of spill events (33 that 
directly affected a body of water) in Williamson County during the same 
time period. Spills that did not directly affect aquatic environments 
may have indirectly done so by contaminating soils or lands that drain 
to water bodies (Gillespie 2012, University of Texas, pers. comm.). The 
risk of this type of contamination is currently ongoing and expected to 
increase with increasing activities associated with urbanization in 
central Texas.
    Hazardous material spills pose a significant threat to the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders, and impacts from spills could 
increase substantially under drought conditions due to lower dilution 
and buffering capability of impacted water bodies. Spills under low 
flow conditions are predicted to have an impact at much smaller volumes 
(Turner and O'Donnell 2004, p. 26). For example, it is predicted that 
at low flows (10 cubic feet per second (cfs)) a spill of 360 gallons 
(1,362.7 liters) of gasoline 3 mi (4.8 km) from Barton Springs could be 
catastrophic for the Austin blind salamander population (Turner and 
O'Donnell 2004, p. 26).
    A significant hazardous materials spill within stream drainages of 
the Austin blind salamander could have the potential to threaten its 
long-term survival and sustainability of multiple populations or 
possibly the entire species. Because the Austin blind salamander 
resides in only one spring system, a catastrophic spill in its surface 
and subsurface habitat could cause the extinction of this species in 
the wild. However, because the Jollyville Plateau salamander occurs in 
106 surface and 16 cave populations over a broad range, the potential 
for a catastrophic hazardous materials spill to cause the extinction of 
this species in the wild is highly unlikely. Even so, a hazardous 
materials spill has the potential to cause localized Jollyville Plateau 
salamander populations to be extirpated. In combination with the other 
threats identified in this final rule, a catastrophic hazardous 
materials spill could contribute to the Jollyville Plateau salamanders' 
risk of extinction by reducing its overall probability of persistence. 
Furthermore, we consider hazardous material spills to be a potential 
significant threat to the Austin blind salamanders due to their limited 
distributions, the number of potential sources, and the amount of 
damage that could be done by a single event.

Underground Storage Tanks

    The risk of hazardous material spills from underground storage 
tanks is widespread in Texas and is expected to increase as 
urbanization continues to occur. As of 1996, more than 6,000 leaking 
underground storage tanks in Texas had resulted in contaminated 
groundwater (Mace et al. 1997, p. 2). In 1993, approximately 6,000 
gallons (22,712 liters) of gasoline leaked from an underground storage 
tank located near Krienke Springs in southern Williamson County, Texas, 
which is known to be occupied by the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
(Manning 1994, p. 1).
    Leaking underground storage tanks have been documented as a problem 
within the Jollyville Plateau salamander's range (COA 2001, p. 16). The 
threat of water quality degradation from an underground storage tank 
could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in local 
populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with only one exposure event. 
This is considered to be an ongoing threat of high impact to the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander. Although we are unaware of any 
information that indicates underground storage tanks have resulted in 
spills within the vicinity of Austin blind salamander sites, they are 
likely present within the watersheds that recharge Barton Springs given 
its urbanized environment. We expect this to become a more significant

[[Page 51302]]

threat in the future as urbanization continues to expand.

Highways

    The transport of hazardous materials is common on many highways, 
which are major transportation routes (Thompson et al. 2011, p. 1). 
Every year, thousands of tons of hazardous materials are transported 
over Texas highways (Thompson et al. 2011, p. 1). Transporters of 
hazardous materials (such as gasoline, cyclic hydrocarbons, fuel oils, 
and pesticides) carry volumes ranging from a few gallons up to 10,000 
gallons (37,854 liters) or more of hazardous material (Thompson et al. 
2011, p. 1). An accident involving hazardous materials can cause the 
release of a substantial volume of material over a very short period of 
time. As such, the capability of standard stormwater management 
structures (or best management practices) to trap and treat such 
releases might be overwhelmed (Thompson et al. 2011, p. 2).
    Interstate Highway 35 crosses the watersheds that contribute 
groundwater to spring sites occupied by the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders. A catastrophic spill could occur if a transport 
truck overturned and its contents entered the recharge zone of the 
Northern or Barton Springs Segments of the Edwards Aquifer. 
Transportation accidents involving hazardous materials spills at bridge 
crossings are of particular concern because recharge areas in creek 
beds can transport contaminants directly into the aquifer (Service 
2005, pp. 1.6-14). The threat of water quality degradation from 
highways could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in 
local populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with only one exposure 
event. We consider this to be an ongoing threat to the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders.

Energy Pipelines

    Energy pipelines are another source of potential hazardous material 
spills. They carry crude oil and refined products made from crude oil, 
such as gasoline, home heating oil, diesel fuel, and kerosene. 
Liquefied ethylene, propane, butane, and some petrochemicals are also 
transported through energy pipelines (U.S. Department of Transportation 
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration 2013, p. 1). 
Austin blind salamander habitat is at risk from hazardous material 
spills that could contaminate groundwater. There is potential for a 
catastrophic spill in the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards 
Aquifer, due to the presence of the Longhorn pipeline (Turner and 
O'Donnell 2004, pp. 2-3). Although a number of mitigation measures were 
employed to reduce the risk of a leak or spill from the Longhorn 
pipeline, such a spill could enter the aquifer and result in the 
contamination of salamander habitat at Barton Springs (EPA 2000, pp. 9-
29-9-30).
    A contaminant spill could travel quickly through the aquifer to 
Barton Springs, where it could impact Austin blind salamander 
populations. Depending on water levels in the aquifer, groundwater flow 
rates through the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer can 
range from 0.6 mi (1 km) per day to over 4 mi (6 km) per day. The 
relatively rapid movement of groundwater under any flow conditions 
provides little time for mitigation efforts to reduce potential damage 
from a hazardous spill anywhere within the Barton Springs Segment of 
the Edwards Aquifer (Turner and O'Donnell 2004, pp. 11-13).
    The threat of water quality degradation from energy pipelines could 
by itself cause irreversible declines, extirpation, or significant 
declines in habitat quality of the Austin blind salamander with only 
one exposure event. Because the Austin blind salamander is found only 
at one location and can be extirpated by one catastrophic energy 
pipeline leak, we consider this to be an ongoing threat of high impact 
that will likely continue in the future. However, we are unaware of any 
information that indicates energy pipelines are located within the 
range of the Jollyville Plateau salamander and, therefore, do not 
consider this to be a threat for this species at this time.

Water and Sewage Lines

    Multiple municipality water lines also run through the surrounding 
areas of Barton Springs. A water line break could potentially flow 
directly into Barton Springs, exposing salamanders to chlorine 
concentrations that are potentially toxic (Herrington and Turner 2009, 
pp. 5, 6). Sewage spills are the most common type of spill within the 
Barton Springs watershed and represent a potential catastrophic threat 
(Turner and O'Donnell 2004, p. 27). Sewage spills often include 
contaminants such as nutrients, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons 
(PAHs), metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and high levels of fecal 
coliform bacteria. Increased ammonia levels and reduced dissolved 
oxygen are the most likely impacts of a sewage spill that could cause 
rapid mortality of large numbers of salamanders (Turner and O'Donnell 
2004, p. 27). Fecal coliform bacteria cause diseases in salamanders and 
their prey base (Turner and O'Donnell 2004, p. 27). Approximately 7,600 
wastewater main pipelines totaling 349 mi (561.6 km) are present in the 
Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer (Herrington et al. 2010, 
p. 16). In addition, there are 9,470 known septic facilities in the 
Barton Springs Segment as of 2010 (Herrington et al. 2010, p. 5), up 
from 4,806 septic systems in 1995 (COA 1995, pp. 3-13). In one COA 
survey of these septic systems, over 7 percent were identified as 
failing (no longer functioning properly, causing water from the septic 
tank to leak) (COA 1995, pp. 3-18).
    Sewage spills from pipelines also have been documented in 
watersheds supporting Jollyville Plateau salamander populations (COA 
2001, pp. 16, 21, 74). For example, in 2007, a sewage line overflowed 
an estimated 50,000 gallons (190,000 liters) of raw sewage into the 
Stillhouse Hollow drainage area of Bull Creek (COA 2007c, pp. 1-3). 
Because the location of the spill was a short distance downstream of 
currently known salamander locations, no salamanders were thought to be 
affected.
    The threat of water quality degradation from water and sewage lines 
could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in local 
populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with only one exposure event. 
We consider this to be an ongoing threat of high impact to the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders that is likely to increase in 
the future as urbanization expands within the ranges of these species.

Swimming Pools

    If water from swimming pools is drained into waterways or storm 
drains without dechlorination, impacts to Eurycea salamanders could 
occur (COA 2001, p. 130). This is due to the concentrations of chlorine 
commonly used in residential swimming pools, which far exceed the 
lethal concentrations observed in experiments with the San Marcos 
salamander (Eurycea nana) (COA 2001, p. 130). Saltwater pools have also 
grown in popularity and pose a similar risk to water quality, because 
saltwater can be harmful to freshwater organisms (Duellman and Trueb 
1986, p. 165; Ingersoll et al. 1992, pp. 507-508; Bendik 2012, COA, 
pers. comm.). Residential swimming pools can be found throughout the 
watersheds of

[[Page 51303]]

several Jollyville Plateau salamander sites and may pose a risk to the 
salamanders if discharged into the storm drain system or waterways.
    Water quality degradation from swimming pools in combination with 
other impacts could contribute to significant declines in habitat 
quality. Although swimming pools occur throughout the range of the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander, using 2012 Google Earth aerial images we 
identified only two sites for this species (Krienke Spring and Long Hog 
Hollow Tributary) with swimming pools located within 50 m (164 ft). We 
did not identify any other swimming pools within 50 m (164 ft) of any 
other salamander site. Therefore, we do not consider this to be an 
ongoing threat to the Austin blind or Jollyville Plateau salamanders at 
this time.
Construction Activities
    Short-term increases in pollutants, particularly sediments, can 
occur during construction in areas of new development. When vegetation 
is removed and rain falls on unprotected soils, large discharges of 
suspended sediments can erode from newly exposed areas resulting in 
increased sedimentation in downstream drainage channels (Schueler 1987, 
pp. 1-4; Turner 2003, p. 24; O'Donnell et al. 2005, p. 15). This 
increased sedimentation from construction activities has been linked to 
declines in Jollyville Plateau salamander counts at multiple sites 
(Turner 2003, p. 24; O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 34).
    Cave sites are also impacted by construction, as Testudo Tube Cave 
(Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat) showed an increase in nickel, 
calcium, nitrates, and nitrites after nearby road construction (Richter 
2009, pp. 6-7). Barton Springs (Austin blind salamander habitat) is 
also under the threat of pollutant loading due to its proximity to 
construction activities and the spring's location at the downstream 
side of the watershed (COA 1997, p. 237). The COA (1995, pp. 3-11) 
estimated that construction-related sediment and in-channel erosion 
accounted for approximately 80 percent of the average annual sediment 
load in the Barton Springs watershed. In addition, the COA (1995, pp. 
3-10) estimated that total suspended sediment loads have increased 270 
percent over predevelopment loadings within the Barton Springs Segment 
of the Edwards Aquifer. Construction is intermittent and temporary, but 
it affects both surface and subsurface habitats. Therefore, we have 
determined that this threat is ongoing and will continue to affect the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders and their habitats.
    Also, the physical construction of pipelines, shafts, wells, and 
similar structures that penetrate the subsurface has the potential to 
negatively affect subsurface habitat for salamander species. It is 
known that these salamanders inhabit the subsurface environment and 
that water flows through the subsurface to the surface habitat. 
Tunneling for underground pipelines can destroy potential habitat by 
removing subsurface material, thereby destroying subsurface spaces/
conduits in which salamanders can live, grow, forage, and reproduce. 
Additional material can become dislodged and result in increased 
sediment loading into the aquifer and associated spring systems. In 
addition, disruption of water flow to springs inhabited by salamanders 
can occur through the construction of tunnels and vertical shafts to 
access them. Because of the complexity of the aquifer and subsurface 
structure and because detailed maps of the underground conduits that 
feed springs in the Edwards Aquifer are not available, tunnels and 
shafts have the possibility of intercepting and severing those conduits 
(COA 2010b, p. 28). Affected springs could rapidly become dry and would 
not support salamander populations. The closer a shaft or tunnel 
location is to a spring, the more likely that the construction will 
impact a spring (COA 2010b, p. 28). Even small shafts pose a threat to 
nearby spring systems. We consider subsurface construction to be a 
threat to the surface and subsurface habitat of the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders.
    Examples of recent subsurface construction activities that had the 
potential to pose a threat to salamander surface and subsurface habitat 
are the Water Treatment Plant No. 4 pipeline and shaft construction and 
the Barton Springs Pool bypass tunnel repairs. In 2011, construction 
began on the Jollyville Transmission Main (JTM), a tunnel designed to 
transport treated drinking water from Water Treatment Plant No. 4 to 
the Jollyville Reservoir. The project also includes four working shafts 
along the tunnel route (COA 2010b, p. 1) that provide access points 
from the surface down to the tunnel. While this type of project has the 
potential to impact salamanders and their habitat, the COA took the 
salamanders into consideration and designed measures to avoid or 
minimize impacts. Because the tunnel is being constructed below the 
Edwards Aquifer and below the permeable portion of the Glen Rose 
formation (COA 2010b, p. 42; Toohey 2011, p. 1; COA 2011c, pp. 36, 46), 
the threat to the salamander from this particular tunnel is considered 
low.
    Of the four Water Treatment Plant No. 4 shafts, only the one at the 
Four Points location appeared to be a potential threat to any 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders. However, construction on this shaft is 
now completed, and there have been no observed impacts to any springs 
or other downstream Jollyville Plateau habitat (COA 2012, pers. comm.). 
Within 1 mi (1.6 km) of the Four Points shaft location are 8 of 92 
known Jollyville Plateau salamander sites. The closest locations 
(Spring 21 and Spring 24) are about 2,000 ft (610 m) or greater from 
the shaft. Best management practices designed to protect groundwater 
resources have been implemented into the design and construction of the 
Jollyville Transmission Main shafts. These practices include, but are 
not limited to: monitoring groundwater quality and spring flow, 
minimizing sediment discharges during construction, developing a 
groundwater impact contingency plan, locating working shafts in areas 
where the chance of encountering conduits to salamander springs is 
reduced, relocating the treatment plant from its original location near 
Jollyville Plateau salamander sites to within an area that has no known 
Jollyville Plateau salamander sites, dedicating 102 ac (41 ha) that was 
originally purchased for the Water Treatment Plant No. 4 project as 
conservation land in perpetuity as part of the Balcones Canyonlands 
Preserve system, creating contingency plans for unexpectedly high 
groundwater inflow to the shafts during their construction, and 
rerouting conduit flow paths around the shaft if encountered (COA 
2010b, pp. 51-55).
    In 2012, the COA began construction in Barton Springs Pool to 
repair and stabilize a bypass tunnel that allows both normal flow from 
Barton Creek and frequent small floods to bypass the swimming area to 
protect water quality within the pool. This project had the potential 
to affect both Barton Springs and Austin blind salamanders by directly 
injuring individuals found within the construction area, drying out 
areas of habitat during pool drawdowns, and subjecting them to 
potentially harmful chemicals and sediment (Service 2011, p. 27). 
However, the COA took the Barton Springs and Austin blind salamanders 
into careful consideration when planning this project and ultimately 
implemented a variety of protective measures to minimize threats to 
these species. Some

[[Page 51304]]

of these measures included, but are not limited to: (1) Regular 
monitoring of water depth, water quality and temperature, discharge of 
the Barton Springs complex, and salamander habitat; (2) limiting 
drawdown to only 2 ft (0.6 m) under conditions of 40 cfs or greater; 
(3) daily surveying for salamanders to ensure none were present in an 
area where construction activities would be conducted; (4) relocating 
salamanders found during these surveys to undisturbed habitat areas; 
(5) carefully evaluating the types of materials used during 
construction and choosing those that were the least toxic to the 
aquatic ecosystem; and (6) using sediment and pollution control 
measures, such as silt fences, containment booms, and turbidity 
curtains (Service 2011, pp. 14-18). Because the COA implemented these 
protective measures, impacts to the Barton Springs and Austin blind 
salamanders were minimized.
    The threat of water quality degradation from construction 
activities could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation 
in local populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with only one exposure 
event (if subsurface flows were interrupted or severed) or with 
repeated exposure over a relatively short timespan. From information 
available in our files and provided to us during the peer review and 
public comment period for the proposed rule, we found that all of the 
Austin blind salamander sites have been known to have had construction 
on their perimeters. Likewise, we are aware of physical habitat 
modification from construction activities at one of the known 
Jollyville Plateau surface sites. Therefore, we consider construction 
activities to be an ongoing threat of medium impact to the Austin blind 
salamander and low impact to Jollyville Plateau salamanders given their 
low exposure risk.

Quarries

    Construction activities within rock quarries can permanently alter 
the geology and groundwater hydrology of the immediate area and 
adversely affect springs that are hydrologically connected to impacted 
sites (Ekmekci 1990, p. 4; van Beynan and Townsend 2005, p. 104; 
Humphreys 2011, p. 295). Limestone rock is an important raw material 
that is mined in quarries all over the world due to its popularity as a 
building material and its use in the manufacture of cement (Vermeulen 
and Whitten 1999, p. 1). The potential environmental impacts of 
quarries include destruction of springs or collapse of karst caverns, 
as well as impacts to water quality through siltation and 
sedimentation, and impacts to water quantity through water diversion, 
dewatering, and reduced flows (Ekmekci 1990, p. 4; van Beynan and 
Townsend 2005, p. 104). The mobilization of fine materials from 
quarries can lead to the occlusion of voids and the smothering of 
surface habitats for aquatic species downstream (Humphreys 2011, p. 
295). Quarry activities can also generate pollution in the aquatic 
ecosystem through leaks or spills of waste materials from mining 
operations (such as petroleum products) (Humphreys 2011, p. 295). For 
example, in 2000, a spill of almost 3,000 gallons (11,356 liters) of 
diesel from an above-ground storage tank occurred on a limestone quarry 
in New Braunfels, Texas (about 4.5-mi (7.2 km) from Comal Springs in 
the Southern Segment of the Edwards Aquifer) (Ross et al. 2005, p. 14).
    Quarrying of limestone is another activity that has considerable 
potential to negatively affect the physical environments where 
salamanders are known to occur. Quarrying and mineral extractions are 
known to cause the downstream mobilization of sediment (Humphreys 2011, 
p. 295), which can occlude the interstitial spaces that salamanders use 
for protective cover. Quarrying can alter landforms, reduce spring 
discharge, cause drawdown of the water table, produce sinkholes, and 
destroy caves (van Beynen and Townsend 2005, p. 104). As quarries 
continue to expand, the risk of impacting salamander habitat increases. 
One quarry occurs in one of the surface watersheds (Brushy Creek 
Spring) where Jollyville Plateau salamanders are known to occur. This 
assessment was based on examining Google Earth 2012 aerial photos of 
each site from the surface drainage basins (surface watersheds) of each 
surface site. There may be additional avenues of potential impacts to 
the springs or cave sites through subsurface drainage basins that were 
not documented through this analysis.
    The threat of physical modification of surface habitat from 
quarrying by itself could cause irreversible declines in population 
sizes or habitat quality at any of the Austin blind or Jollyville 
Plateau salamander sites. It could also work in combination with other 
threats to contribute to significant declines of salamander populations 
or habitat quality. Currently quarries are located in the surface 
watersheds of 1 of the 106 assessed Jollyville Plateau salamander 
surface sites. Therefore, we consider this an ongoing threat of low 
impact given the low exposure risk to the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
that could increase in the future. Physical modification of surface 
habitat from quarries is not considered an ongoing threat to the Austin 
blind salamander at this time. The Austin blind salamander's range is 
located in downtown Austin, and there are no active limestone quarries 
within the species' range or in its surface watershed.
Contaminants and Pollutants
    Contaminants and pollutants are stressors that can affect 
individual salamanders or their habitats or their prey. These stressors 
find their way into aquatic habitat through a variety of ways, 
including stormwater runoff, point (a single identifiable source) and 
non-point (coming from many diffuse sources) discharges, and hazardous 
material spills (Coles et al. 2012, p. 21). For example, sediments 
eroded from soil surfaces can concentrate and transport contaminants 
(Mahler and Lynch 1999, p. 165). The Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders and their prey species are directly exposed to 
sediment-borne contaminants present within the aquifer and discharging 
through the spring outlets. For example, in addition to sediment, trace 
metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc were 
found in Barton Springs in the early 1990s (COA 1997, pp. 229, 231-
232). Such contaminants associated with sediments are known to 
negatively affect survival and growth of an amphipod species, which are 
part of the prey base of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders (Ingersoll et al. 1996, pp. 607-608; Coles et al. 2012, p. 
50). As a karst aquifer system, the Edwards Aquifer is more vulnerable 
to the effects of contamination due to: (1) A large number of conduits 
that offer no filtering capacity, (2) high groundwater flow velocities, 
and (3) the relatively short amount of time that water is inside the 
aquifer system (Ford and Williams 1989, pp. 518-519). These 
characteristics of the aquifer allow contaminants entering the 
watershed to enter and move through the aquifer more easily, thus 
reaching salamander habitat within spring sites more quickly than other 
types of aquifer systems. Various industrial and municipal activities 
result in the discharge of treated wastewater or unintentional release 
of industrial contaminants as point source pollution. Urban 
environments are host to a variety of human activities that generate 
many types of sources for contaminants and pollutants. These 
substances, especially when combined, often degrade nearby

[[Page 51305]]

waterways and aquatic resources within the watershed (Coles et al. 
2012, pp. 44-53).
    Amphibians, especially their eggs and larvae (which are usually 
restricted to a small area within an aquatic environment), are 
sensitive to many different aquatic pollutants (Harfenist et al. 1989, 
pp. 4-57). Contaminants found in aquatic environments, even at 
sublethal concentrations, may interfere with a salamander's ability to 
develop, grow, or reproduce (Burton and Ingersoll 1994, pp. 120, 125). 
Central Texas salamanders are particularly vulnerable to contaminants, 
because they have evolved under very stable environmental conditions, 
remain aquatic throughout their entire life cycle, have highly 
permeable skin, have severely restricted ranges, and cannot escape 
contaminants in their environment (Turner and O'Donnell 2004, p. 5). In 
addition, macroinvertebrates, such as small freshwater crustaceans 
(amphipods and copepods), that aquatic salamanders feed on are 
especially sensitive to water pollution (Phipps et al. 1995, p. 282; 
Miller et al. 2007, p. 74; Coles et al. 2012, pp. 64-65). Studies in 
the Bull Creek watershed in Austin, Texas, found a loss of some 
sensitive macroinvertebrate species, potentially due to contaminants of 
nutrient enrichment and sediment accumulation (COA 2001, p. 15; COA 
2010a, p. 16). Below, we discuss specific contaminants and pollutants 
that may be impacting the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders.

Petroleum Aromatic Hydrocarbons

    Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a common form of 
aquatic contaminants in urbanized areas that could affect salamanders, 
their habitat, or their prey. This form of pollution can originate from 
petroleum products, such as oil or grease, or from atmospheric 
deposition as a byproduct of combustion (for example, vehicular 
combustion). These pollutants accumulate over time on impervious cover, 
contaminating water supplies through urban and highway runoff (Van 
Metre et al. 2000, p. 4,067; Albers 2003, pp. 345-346). The main source 
of PAH loading in Austin-area streams is parking lots with coal tar 
emulsion sealant, even though this type of lot only covers 1 to 2 
percent of the watersheds (Mahler et al. 2005, p. 5,565). A recent 
analysis of the rate of wear on coal tar lots revealed that the 
sealcoat wears off relatively quickly and contributes more to PAH 
loading than previously thought (Scoggins et al. 2009, p. 4,914).
    Petroleum and petroleum byproducts can adversely affect living 
organisms by causing direct toxic action, altering water chemistry, 
reducing light, and decreasing food availability (Albers 2003, p. 349). 
Exposure to PAHs at levels found within the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander's range can cause impaired reproduction, reduced growth and 
development, and tumors or cancer in species of amphibians, reptiles, 
and other organisms (Albers 2003, p. 354). Coal tar pavement sealant 
slowed hatching, growth, and development of a frog (Xenopus laevis) in 
a laboratory setting (Bryer et al. 2006, pp. 244-245). High 
concentrations of PAHs from coal tar sealant negatively affected the 
righting ability (amount of time needed to flip over after being placed 
on back) of adult eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) and may 
have also damaged the newt's liver (Sparling et al. 2009, pp. 18-20). 
For juvenile spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum), PAHs reduced 
growth in the lab (Sparling et al. 2009, p. 28). In a lab study using 
the same coal tar sealant once used by the COA, Bommarito et al. (2010, 
pp. 1,151-1,152) found that spotted salamanders displayed slower growth 
rates and diminished swimming ability when exposed to PAHs. These 
contaminants are also known to cause death, reduced survival, altered 
physiological function, inhibited reproduction, and changes in 
community composition of freshwater invertebrates (Albers 2003, p. 
352). Due to their similar life histories, it is reasonable to assume 
that effects of PAHs on other species of amphibians, reptiles, and 
other organisms could also occur in Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders.
    Limited sampling by the COA has detected PAHs at concentrations of 
concern at multiple sites within the range of the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander. Most notable were the levels of nine different PAH 
compounds at the Spicewood Springs site in the Shoal Creek drainage 
area, which were above concentrations known to adversely affect aquatic 
organisms (O'Donnell et al. 2005, pp. 16-17). The Spicewood Springs 
site is located within an area with greater than 30 percent impervious 
cover and down gradient from a commercial business that changes vehicle 
oil. This is also one of the sites where salamanders have shown 
declines in abundance (from an average of 12 individuals per visit in 
1997 to an average of 2 individuals in 2005) during the COA's long-term 
monitoring studies (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 47). Another study found 
several PAH compounds in seven Austin-area streams, including Barton, 
Bull, and Walnut Creeks, downstream of coal tar sealant parking lots 
(Scoggins et al. 2007, p. 697). Sites with high concentrations of PAHs 
(located in Barton and Walnut Creeks) had fewer macroinvertebrate 
species and lower macroinvertebrate density (Scoggins et al. 2007, p. 
700). This form of contamination has also been detected at Barton 
Springs, which is the Austin blind salamander's habitat (COA 1997, p. 
10).
    The threat of water quality degradation from PAH exposure could by 
itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in local populations 
or significant declines in habitat quality of the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders with continuous or repeated exposure. In 
some instances, exposure to PAH contamination could negatively impact a 
salamander population in combination with exposure to other sources of 
water quality degradation, resulting in significant habitat declines or 
other significant negative impacts (such as loss of invertebrate prey 
species). We consider this to be a threat of high impact to the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders now and in the future as 
urbanization increases within these species' surface watersheds.

Pesticides

    Pesticides (including herbicides and insecticides) are also 
associated with urban areas. Sources of pesticides include lawns, road 
rights-of-way, and managed turf areas, such as golf courses, parks, and 
ballfields. Pesticide application is also common in residential, 
recreational, and agricultural areas. Pesticides have the potential to 
leach into groundwater through the soil or be washed into streams by 
stormwater runoff.
    Some of the most widely used pesticides in the United States--
atrazine, carbaryl, diazinon, and simazine (Mahler and Van Metre 2000, 
p. 1)--were documented within the Austin blind salamander's habitat 
(Barton Springs Pool and Eliza Springs) in water samples taken at 
Barton Springs during and after a 2-day storm event (Mahler and Van 
Metre 2000, pp. 1, 6, 8). They were found at levels below criteria set 
in the aquatic life protection section of the Texas Surface Water 
Quality Standards (Mahler and Van Metre 2000, p. 4). In addition, 
elevated concentrations of organochlorine pesticides were found in 
Barton Springs sediments (Ingersoll et al. 2001, p. 7). A later water 
quality study at Barton Springs from 2003 to 2005 detected

[[Page 51306]]

several pesticides (atrazine, simazine, prometon, and deethylatrazine) 
in low concentrations (Mahler et al. 2006, p. 63). The presence of 
these contaminants in Barton Springs indicates the vulnerability of 
salamander habitat to contamination.
    Another study by the USGS detected insecticides (diazinon and 
malathion) and herbicides (atrazine, prometone, and simazine) in 
several Austin-area streams, most often at sites with urban and partly 
urban watersheds (Veenhuis and Slade 1990, pp. 45-47). Twenty-two of 
the 42 selected synthetic organic compounds analyzed in this study were 
detected more often and in larger concentrations at sites with more 
urban watersheds compared to undeveloped watersheds (Veenhuis and Slade 
1990, p. 61). Other pesticides (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, 
chlordane, hexachlorobenzene, and dieldrin) have been detected at 
multiple Jollyville Plateau salamander sites (COA 2001, p. 130).
    While pesticides have been detected at Austin blind salamander and 
Jollyville Plateau salamander sites, we do not know the extent to which 
pesticides and other waterborne contaminants have affected salamander 
survival, development, and reproduction, or their prey. However, 
pesticides are known to impact amphibian species in a number of ways. 
For example, Reylea (2009, p. 370) demonstrated that diazinon reduces 
growth and development in larval amphibians. Another pesticide, 
carbaryl, causes mortality and deformities in larval streamside 
salamanders (Ambystoma barbouri) (Rohr et al. 2003, p. 2,391). The 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2007, p. 9) also found that 
carbaryl is likely to adversely affect the Barton Springs salamander 
both directly and indirectly through reduction of prey. Additionally, 
atrazine has been shown to impair sexual development in male amphibians 
(clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis)) at concentrations as low as 0.1 parts 
per billion (Hayes 2002, p. 5,477). Atrazine levels were found to be 
greater than 0.44 parts per billion after rainfall in Barton Springs 
Pool (Mahler and Van Mere 2000, pp. 4, 12).
    We acknowledge that in 2007 a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) of 
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed the available 
information on atrazine effects on amphibians and concluded that 
atrazine concentrations less than 100 [mu]g[sol]L had no effects on 
clawed frogs. However, the 2012 SAP is currently reexamining the 
conclusions of the 2007 SAP using a meta-analysis of published studies 
along with additional studies on more species (EPA 2012, p. 35). The 
2012 SAP expressed concern that some studies were discounted in the 
2007 SAP analysis, including studies like Hayes (2002) that indicated 
that atrazine is linked to endocrine (hormone) disruption in amphibians 
(EPA 2012, p. 35). In addition, the 2007 SAP noted that their results 
on clawed frogs are insufficient to make global conclusions about the 
effects of atrazine on all amphibian species (EPA 2012, p. 33). 
Accordingly, the 2012 SAP has recommended further testing on at least 
three amphibian species before a conclusion can be reached that 
atrazine has no effect on amphibians at concentrations less than 100 
[mu]g/L (EPA 2012, p. 33). Due to potential differences in species 
sensitivity, exposure scenarios that may include dozens of chemical 
stressors simultaneously, and multigenerational effects that are not 
fully understood, we continue to view pesticides, including carbaryl, 
atrazine, and many others to which aquatic organisms may be exposed, as 
a potential threat to water quality, salamander health, and the health 
of aquatic organisms that comprise the diet of salamanders.
    The threat of water quality degradation from pesticide exposure 
could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in local 
populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with continuous or repeated 
exposure. In some instances, exposure to pesticide contamination could 
negatively impact a salamander population in combination with exposure 
to other sources of water quality degradation, resulting in significant 
habitat declines or other significant negative impacts (such as loss of 
invertebrate prey species). We consider this an ongoing threat of high 
impact for the Austin blind salamander because this species occurs only 
in one location. For the Jollyville Plateau salamanders, this is 
currently a threat of low impact that is likely to increase in the 
future.

Nutrients

    Nutrient input (such as phosphorus and nitrogen) to watershed 
drainages, which often results in abnormally high organic growth in 
aquatic ecosystems, can originate from multiple sources, such as human 
and animal wastes, industrial pollutants, and fertilizers (from lawns, 
golf courses, or croplands) (Garner and Mahler 2007, p. 29). As the 
human population grows and subsequent urbanization occurs within the 
ranges of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders, they 
likely become more susceptible to the effects of excessive nutrients 
within their habitats because their exposure increases. To illustrate, 
an estimated 102,262 domestic dogs and cats (pet waste is a potential 
source of excessive nutrients) were known to occur within the Barton 
Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer in 2010 (Herrington et al. 2010, 
p. 15). Their distributions were correlated with human population 
density (Herrington et al. 2010, p. 15). Feral hogs have also been 
cited as a source of elevated bacteria, nitrates, and phosphorus in 
streams in the Austin area (Timmons et al. 2011, pp. 1-2). Finally, 
livestock grazing near streams can negatively affect stream systems by 
influencing nutrients, bacteria, and aquatic species diversity (COA 
1995, pp. 3-62).
    Various residential properties and golf courses are known to use 
fertilizers to maintain turf grass within watersheds where Jollyville 
Plateau salamander populations are known to occur (COA 2003, pp. 1-7). 
Analysis of water quality attributes conducted by the COA (1997, pp. 8-
9) showed significant differences in nitrate, ammonia, total dissolved 
solids, total suspended solids, and turbidity concentrations between 
watersheds dominated by golf courses, residential land, and rural land. 
Golf course tributaries were found to have higher concentrations of 
these constituents than residential tributaries, and both golf course 
and residential tributaries had substantially higher concentrations for 
these five water quality attributes than rural tributaries (COA 1997, 
pp. 8-9).
    Residential irrigation of wastewater effluent is another source 
leading to excessive nutrient input into the recharge and contributing 
zones of the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer (Ross 2011, 
pp. 11-18; Mahler et al. 2011, pp. 16-23). Wastewater effluent permits 
do not require treatment to remove metals, pharmaceutical chemicals, or 
the wide range of chemicals found in body care products, soaps, 
detergents, pesticides, or other cleaning products (Ross 2011, p. 6). 
These chemicals remaining in treated wastewater effluent can enter 
streams and the aquifer and alter water quality within salamander 
habitat. A USGS study found nitrate concentrations in Barton Springs 
and the five streams that provide most of its recharge much higher 
during 2008 to 2010 than before 2008 (Mahler et al. 2011, pp. 1-4). 
Additionally, nitrate levels in water samples collected between 2003 
and 2010 from Barton Creek tributaries exceeded TCEQ screening levels 
and were identified as

[[Page 51307]]

screening level concerns (TCEQ 2012b, p. 344). The rapid development 
over the Barton Springs contributing zone since 2000 was associated 
with an increase in the generation of wastewater (Mahler et al. 2011, 
p. 29). Septic systems and land-applied treated wastewater effluent are 
likely sources contributing nitrate to the recharging streams (Mahler 
et al. 2011, p. 29). As of November 2010, the permitted volume of 
irrigated flow in the contributing zone of the Barton Springs Segment 
of the Edwards Aquifer was 3,300,000 gallons (12,491 kiloliters) per 
day. About 95 percent of that volume was permitted during 2005 to 2010 
(Mahler et al. 2011, p. 30).
    Excessive nutrient input into aquatic systems can increase plant 
growth (including algae blooms), which pulls more oxygen out of the 
water when the dead plant matter decomposes, resulting in less oxygen 
being available in the water for salamanders to breathe (Schueler 1987, 
pp. 1.5-1.6; Ross 2011, p. 7). A reduction in dissolved oxygen 
concentrations could not only affect respiration in salamander species, 
but also lead to decreased metabolic functioning and growth in 
juveniles (Woods et al. 2010, p. 544), or death (Ross 2011, p. 6). 
Excessive plant material can also reduce stream velocities and increase 
sediment deposition (Ross 2011, p. 7). When the interstitial spaces 
become compacted or filled with fine sediment, the amount of available 
foraging habitat and protective cover is reduced (Welsh and Ollivier 
1998, p. 1,128). Studies in the Bull Creek watershed found a loss of 
some sensitive macroinvertebrate species, potentially due to nutrient 
enrichment and sediment accumulation (COA 2001b, p. 15).
    Increased nitrate levels have been known to affect amphibians by 
altering feeding activity and causing disequilibrium and physical 
abnormalities (Marco et al. 1999, p. 2,837). Poor water quality, 
particularly elevated nitrates, may also be a cause of morphological 
deformities in individual Jollyville Plateau salamanders. The COA has 
documented very high levels of nitrates (averaging over 6 milligrams 
per liter (mg L-1) with some samples exceeding 10 mg 
L-1) and high conductivity at two monitoring sites in the 
Stillhouse Hollow drainage area (O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 26, 37). 
Additionally, as reported in the 2012 Texas Integrated Report of 
Surface Water Quality, nitrate levels in water samples collected 
between 2003 and 2010 from Stillhouse Hollow, Barrow Preserve, and 
Spicewood stream segments exceeded TCEQ screening levels and were 
identified as screening level concerns (TCEQ 2012b, p. 38, 41). For 
comparison, nitrate levels in undeveloped Edwards Aquifer springs 
(watersheds without high levels of urbanization) are typically close to 
1 mg L-1 (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 26). The source of the 
nitrates in Stillhouse Hollow is thought to be lawn fertilizers (Turner 
2005b, p. 11). Salamanders observed at the Stillhouse Hollow monitoring 
sites have shown high incidences of deformities, such as curved spines, 
missing eyes, missing limbs or digits, and eye injuries (O'Donnell et 
al. 2006, p. 26). These deformities often result in the salamander's 
inability to feed, reproduce, or survive. The Stillhouse Hollow 
location was also cited as having the highest observation of dead 
salamanders (COA 2001, p. 88). Although no statistical correlations 
were found between the number of deformities and nitrate concentrations 
(O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 26), environmental toxins are the suspected 
cause of salamander deformities (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 25). Nitrate 
toxicity studies have indicated that salamanders and other amphibians 
are sensitive to these pollutants (Marco et al. 1999, p. 2,837). Some 
studies have indicated that concentrations of nitrate between 1.0 and 
3.6 mg/L can be toxic to aquatic organisms (Rouse 1999, p. 802; Camargo 
et al. 2005, p. 1,264; Hickey and Martin 2009, pp. ii, 17-18).
    The threat of water quality degradation from excessive nutrient 
exposure could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in 
local populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with continuous or 
repeated exposure. At least five surface watersheds of the known 
Jollyville Plateau salamander's surface sites contain golf courses that 
could be contributing to excessive nutrient loads. In some instances, 
exposure to excessive nutrient exposure could negatively impact a 
salamander population in combination with exposure to other sources of 
water quality degradation, resulting in significant habitat declines or 
other significant negative impacts (such as loss of morphological 
deformities). We consider this an ongoing threat of medium impact for 
the Austin blind salamander and low impact for the Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders that will likely increase in the future.
Changes in Water Chemistry

Conductivity

    Conductivity is a measure of the ability of water to carry an 
electrical current and can be used to approximate the concentration of 
dissolved inorganic solids in water that can alter the internal water 
balance in aquatic organisms, affecting the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders' survival. Conductivity levels in the Edwards 
Aquifer are naturally low, ranging from approximately 550 to 700 micro 
Siemens per centimeter ([mu]S cm-1) (derived from several 
conductivity measurements in two references: Turner 2005a, pp. 8-9; 
O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 29). As ion concentrations such as chlorides, 
sodium, sulfates, and nitrates rise, conductivity will increase. These 
compounds are the chemical products, or byproducts, of many common 
pollutants that originate from urban environments (Menzer and Nelson 
1980, p. 633), which are often transported to streams via stormwater 
runoff from impervious cover. This, combined with the stability of the 
measured ions, makes conductivity an excellent monitoring tool for 
assessing the impacts of urbanization to overall water quality. 
Measurements by the COA between 1997 and 2006 found that conductivity 
averaged between 550 and 650 [mu]S cm-1 at rural springs 
with low or no development and averaged between 900 and 1000 [mu]S 
cm-1 at monitoring sites in watersheds with urban 
development (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 37).
    Conductivity can be influenced by weather. Rainfall serves to 
dilute ions and lower conductivity while drought has the opposite 
effect. The trends of increasing conductivity in urban watersheds were 
evident under baseflow conditions and during a period when 
precipitation was above average in all but 3 years, so drought was not 
a factor (NOAA 2013, pp. 1-7). The COA also monitored water quality as 
impervious cover increased in several subdivisions with known 
Jollyville Plateau salamander sites between 1996 and 2007. They found 
increasing ions (calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate) and nitrates with 
increasing impervious cover at four Jollyville Plateau salamander sites 
and as a general trend during the course of the study from 1997 to 2006 
(Herrington et al. 2007, pp. 13-14). These results indicate that 
developed watersheds can alter the water chemistry within salamander 
habitats.
    High conductivity has been associated with declining salamander 
abundance. For example, three of the four sites with statistically 
significant declining Jollyville Plateau salamander counts from 1997 to 
2006 are cited as having high conductivity readings (O'Donnell et al. 
2006, p. 37). Similar correlations

[[Page 51308]]

were shown in studies comparing developed and undeveloped sites from 
1996 to 1998 (Bowles et al. 2006, pp. 117-118). This analysis found 
significantly lower numbers of salamanders and significantly higher 
measures of specific conductance at developed sites as compared to 
undeveloped sites (Bowles et al. 2006, pp. 117-118). Tributary 5 of 
Bull Creek has had an increase in conductivity, chloride, and sodium 
and a decrease in invertebrate diversity from 1996 to 2008 (COA 2010a, 
p. 16). Only one Jollyville Plateau salamander has been observed here 
from 2009 to 2010 in quarterly surveys (Bendik 2011a, p. 16). A 
separate analysis found that ions such as chloride and sulfate 
increased in Barton Creek despite the enactment of city-wide water 
quality control ordinances (Turner 2007, p. 7). Poor water quality, as 
measured by high specific conductance and elevated levels of ion 
concentrations, is cited as one of the likely factors leading to 
statistically significant declines in salamander counts at the COA's 
long-term monitoring sites (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 46). h
    The threat of water quality degradation from high conductivity 
could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in local 
populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with continuous or repeated 
exposure. In some instances, exposure to high conductivity could 
negatively impact a salamander population in combination with exposure 
to other sources of water quality degradation, resulting in significant 
habitat declines. We consider this an ongoing threat of high impact for 
the Jollyville Plateau salamander that is likely to increase in the 
future. Although we are unaware of any information that indicates 
increased conductivity is occurring within the ranges of the Austin 
blind salamander, we expect this to become a significant threat in the 
future for this species as urbanization continues to expand within its 
surface watersheds.

Salinity

    As groundwater levels decline, a decrease in hydrostatic pressure 
occurs and saline water is able to move into groundwater flow paths of 
the aquifer (Pavlicek et al. 1987, p. 2). Water quality in the Barton 
Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer has been degraded in the past 
due to saline water encroachment (Slade et al. 1986, p. 62). This water 
quality degradation occurred when Barton Springs discharge was less 
than 30 cfs (Slade et al. 1986, p. 64). An analysis of more recent data 
found similar declines in water quality as the flow of Barton Springs 
dropped into the 20 to 30 cfs range (Johns 2006, pp. 6-7). As mentioned 
earlier, reduced groundwater levels would also increase the 
concentration of pollutants in the aquifer. Flows at Barton Springs 
dropped below 17 cfs as recently as mid-November 2011 (Barton Springs/
Edwards Aquifer Conservation District 2011, p. 1), and no Austin blind 
salamanders were observed during surveys at any of their three known 
locations during this time.
    This saline water encroachment is detrimental to the freshwater 
biota in the springs and the aquifer, including the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders and their prey. Most amphibian larvae 
cannot survive saline conditions (Duellman and Trueb 1986, p. 165). 
Ingersoll et al. (1992, pp. 507-508) found that increased salinity 
caused mortality in amphipods and some freshwater fish species. Saline 
conditions in the Edwards Aquifer could, therefore, pose a risk to the 
salamanders and their prey species.
    The threat of water quality degradation from saline water 
encroachments could by itself cause irreversible declines or 
extirpation in local populations or significant declines in habitat 
quality of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with 
continuous or repeated exposure. In some instances, exposure to saline 
conditions could negatively impact a salamander population in 
combination with exposure to other sources of water quality 
degradation, resulting in significant habitat declines or another 
significant negative impact (such as loss of prey species). We consider 
this an ongoing threat of high impact for the Austin blind salamander 
that will continue in the future. At this time, we are unaware of any 
information that indicates low saline water encroachment is occurring 
within the range of the Jollyville Plateau salamander.

Dissolved Oxygen

    In an analysis performed by the COA (Turner 2005a, p. 6), 
significant changes over time were reported for several chemical 
constituents and physical parameters in Barton Springs Pool, which 
could be attributed to impacts from watershed urbanization. 
Conductivity, turbidity, sulfates, and total organic carbon increased 
over a 20- to 25-year time period while the concentration of dissolved 
oxygen decreased (Turner 2005a, pp. 8-17). A similar analysis by 
Herrington and Hiers (2010, p. 2) examined water quality at Barton 
Springs Pool and other Barton Springs outlets where Austin blind 
salamanders are found (Sunken Gardens and Eliza Springs) over a general 
period of the mid-1990s to the summer of 2009. Herrington and Hiers 
(2010, pp. 41-42) found that dissolved oxygen decreased over time in 
the Barton Springs Pool, while conductivity and nitrogen increased. 
However, this decline in water quality was not seen in Sunken Gardens 
Spring or Eliza Spring (Herrington 2010, p. 42).
    Low dissolved oxygen can affect salamanders and other amphibians by 
reducing respiratory efficiency, metabolic energy, reproductive rate, 
and ultimately survival (Norris et al. 1963, p. 532; Hillman and 
Withers 1979, p. 2,104; Boutilier et al. 1992, pp. 81-82). The 
screening level for dissolved oxygen (5.0 mg/L) that is used by TCEQ 
for their analysis of water quality samples is similar to that 
recommended by the Service in 2006 to be protective of federally listed 
salamanders (White et al. 2006, p. 51). In 2012, the TCEQ reported that 
stream segments located within watersheds occupied by the Austin blind 
(Barton Spring pool) and Jollyville Plateau (Bull Creek) salamanders 
had depressed dissolved oxygen levels that were not meeting screening 
level criteria (TCEQ 2012b, pp. 35-36; 2012c, p. 733).
    The threat of water quality degradation from low dissolved oxygen 
could by itself cause irreversible declines or extirpation in local 
populations or significant declines in habitat quality of the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders with continuous or repeated 
exposure. In some instances, exposure to low dissolved oxygen could 
negatively impact a salamander population in combination with exposure 
to other sources of water quality degradation, resulting in significant 
habitat declines. We consider this an ongoing threat of high impact for 
the Austin blind salamander due to their limited range. However, we 
consider this to be a threat of low impact to the Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders given the low risk of exposure.

Water Quantity Degradation

    Water quantity decreases and spring flow declines are considered 
threats to Eurycea salamanders (Corn et al. 2003, p. 36; Bowles et al. 
2006, p. 111), because drying spring habitats can cause salamanders to 
be stranded, resulting in death of individuals (O'Donnell et al. 2006, 
p. 16). It is also known that prey availability for carnivores is low 
underground due to the lack of primary production (Hobbs and Culver 
2009, p.

[[Page 51309]]

392). Therefore, relying entirely on subsurface habitat during dry 
conditions on the surface may negatively impact the salamanders' 
feeding abilities and slow individual and population growth, which can 
exacerbate the risk of extirpation in the face of other threats 
occurring at the site.
Urbanization
    Increased urbanization in the watershed has been cited as one 
factor, particularly in combination with drought that causes declines 
in spring flows (COA 2006, pp. 46-47; TPWD 2011, pp. 4-5). This is 
partly due to reductions in baseflow due to impervious cover. 
Urbanization removes the ability of a watershed to allow slow 
filtration of water through soils following rain events. Instead 
rainfall runs off impervious surfaces and into stream channels at 
higher rates, increasing downstream ``flash'' flows and decreasing 
groundwater recharge and subsequent baseflows from springs (Miller et 
al. 2007, p. 74; Coles et al. 2012, pp. 2, 19). Urbanization can also 
impact water quantity by increasing groundwater pumping and altering 
the natural flow regime of streams. These stressors are discussed in 
more detail below.
    Urbanization can also result in increased groundwater pumping, 
which has a direct impact on spring flows, particularly under drought 
conditions. Groundwater availability models demonstrate that 1 cfs of 
pumping will diminish Barton Springs flow by 1 cfs under drought-of-
record (1950s drought) conditions (Smith and Hunt 2004, pp. 24, 36). 
Under the same conditions, these models suggest that present-day 
pumping rates will temporarily cease Barton Springs flow for at least a 
4-month period under a repeat of drought-of-record conditions (Smith 
and Hunt 2004, pp. 24, 36).
    From 1980 to 2000, groundwater pumping in the Northern Segment of 
the Edwards Aquifer nearly doubled (TWDB 2003, pp. 32-33). Total water 
use for Williamson County where the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
occurs was 82,382 acre feet (ac ft) in 2010, and is projected to 
increase to 109,368 ac ft by 2020, and to 234,936 ac ft by 2060, 
representing a 185 percent increase over the 50-year period (TWDB 2011, 
p. 78). Similarly, a 91 percent increase in total groundwater use over 
the same 50-year period is expected in Travis County (TWDB 2011, pp. 5, 
72).
    While the demand for water is expected to increase with human 
population growth, one prediction of future groundwater use in this 
area suggests a large drop in pumping as municipalities convert from 
groundwater to surface water supplies (TWDB 2003, p. 65). To meet the 
increasing water demand, the 2012 State Water Plan recommends more 
reliance on surface water, including existing and new reservoirs, 
rather than groundwater (TWDB 2012, p. 190). For example, one 
recommended project conveys water from Lake Travis to Williamson County 
(TWDB 2012, pp. 192-193). Another recommendation would augment the 
surface water of Lake Granger in Williamson County with groundwater 
from Burleson County and the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer (TWDB 2012, pp. 
164, 192-193). However, it is unknown if this reduction in groundwater 
use will occur, and if it does, how that will affect spring flows for 
salamanders.
    The COA found a negative correlation between urbanization and 
spring flows at Jollyville Plateau salamander sites (Turner 2003, p. 
11). Field studies have also shown that a number of springs that 
support Jollyville Plateau salamanders have already gone dry 
periodically and that spring waters resurface following rain events 
(O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 46-47). Through a site-by-site assessment 
from information available in our files and provided during the peer 
review and public comment period for the proposed rule, we found that 
51 out of the 106 Jollyville Plateau salamander surface sites have gone 
dry for some period of time. Because we lack flow data for some of the 
spring sites, it is possible that even more sites have gone dry for a 
period of time as well.
    Flow is a major determining factor of physical habitat in streams, 
which in turn, is a major determining factor of aquatic species 
composition within streams (Bunn and Arthington 2002, p. 492). Various 
land-use practices, such as urbanization, conversion of forested or 
prairie habitat to agricultural lands, excessive wetland draining, and 
overgrazing can reduce water retention within watersheds by routing 
rainfall quickly downstream, increasing the size and frequency of flood 
events and reducing baseflow levels during dry periods (Poff et al. 
1997, pp. 772-773). Over time, these practices can degrade in-channel 
habitat for aquatic species (Poff et al. 1997, p. 773).
    Baseflow is defined as that portion of streamflow that originates 
from shallow, subsurface groundwater sources, which provide flow to 
streams in periods of little rainfall (Poff et al. 1997, p. 771). The 
land-use practices mentioned above can cause streamflow to shift from 
predominately baseflow, which is derived from natural filtration 
processes, to predominately stormwater runoff. With increasing 
stormwater runoff, the amount of baseflow available to sustain water 
supplies during drought cycles is diminished and the frequency and 
severity of flooding increases (Poff et al. 1997, p. 773). The 
increased quantity and velocity of runoff increases erosion and 
streambank destabilization, which in turn, leads to increased sediment 
loadings, channel widening, and detrimental changes in the morphology 
and aquatic ecology of the affected stream system (Hammer 1972, pp. 
1,535-1,536, 1,540; Booth 1990, pp. 407-409, 412-414; Booth and Reinelt 
1993, pp. 548-550; Schueler 1994, pp. 106-108; Pizzuto et al. 2000, p. 
82; Center for Watershed Protection 2003, pp. 41-48; Coles et al. 2012, 
pp. 37-38).
    Changes in flow regime can have a direct impact on salamander 
populations. For example, Barrett et al. (2010, pp. 2,002-2,003) 
observed that the density of aquatic southern two-lined salamanders 
(Eurycea cirrigera) declined more drastically in streams with urbanized 
watersheds compared to streams with forested or pastured watersheds. A 
statistical analysis indicated that this decline in urban streams was 
due to an increase in flooding frequency from stormwater runoff. 
Barrett et al. (2010, p. 2,003) also used artificial stream experiments 
to demonstrate that salamander larvae were flushed from sand-based 
sediments at significantly lower velocities, as compared to gravel, 
pebble, or cobble-based sediments. Sand-based substrates are common to 
urban streams due to high sedimentation rates (see ``Sedimentation'' 
section above). The combined effects of increased sand-based substrates 
due to high sedimentation rates and increased flow velocities from 
impervious cover result in effectively flushing salamander larvae from 
their habitat.
    The Service has determined that impervious cover due to 
urbanization in the salamanders' watersheds causes streamflow to shift 
from predominately baseflow to predominately stormwater runoff. For 
example, an examination of 24 stream sites in the Austin area revealed 
that increasing impervious cover in the watersheds resulted in 
decreased base flow, increased high-flow events of shorter duration, 
and more rapid rises and falls of the stream flow (Glick et al. 2009, 
p. 9). Increases in impervious cover within the Walnut Creek watershed 
(Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat) have likely caused a shift to 
more rapid rises and falls of that stream flow (Herrington 2010, p. 
11).

[[Page 51310]]

    The threat of water quantity degradation from urbanization could by 
itself cause irreversible declines in population sizes or habitat 
quality for the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. Also, 
it could by itself cause irreversible declines or the extirpation of a 
salamander population at a site with continuous exposure. We consider 
this to be an ongoing threat of high impact for the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders that is likely to increase in the 
future.
Drought
    Drought conditions cause lowered groundwater tables and reduced 
spring flows. The Northern Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which 
supplies water to the Jollyville Plateau salamander's habitat, is 
vulnerable to drought (Chippindale et al. 2000, p. 36). In particular, 
the portion of the Edwards Aquifer underlying the Jollyville Plateau is 
relatively shallow with a high elevation, thus being unlikely to 
sustain spring flows during periods of drought (Cole 1995, pp. 26-27). 
Drought has been cited as causing declines in spring flows within 
Jollyville Plateau and Austin blind salamander habitat (O'Donnell et 
al. 2006, pp. 46-47; Bendik 2011a, p. 31; Hunt et al. 2012, pp. 190, 
195). A drought lasting from 2008 to 2009 was considered one of the 
worst droughts in central Texas history and caused numerous Jollyville 
Plateau salamander sites to go dry (Bendik 2011a, p. 31). An even more 
pronounced drought throughout Texas began in 2010, with the period from 
October 2010 through September 2011 being the driest 12-month period in 
Texas since rainfall records began (Hunt et al. 2012, p. 195). Rainfall 
in early 2012 lessened the intensity of drought conditions, but 2012 
monthly summer temperatures continued to be higher than average (NOAA 
2013, p. 6). Moderate to extreme drought conditions have continued into 
2013 in the central Texas region (LCRA 2013, p. 1). Weather forecasts 
call for near to slightly less than normal rainfall across Texas 
through August, but not enough rain to break the drought is expected 
(LCRA 2013, p. 1).
    Low flow conditions during drought also have negative impacts to 
the Austin blind salamander and its ecosystem in the Edwards Aquifer 
and at Barton Springs. The long-term average flow at the Barton Springs 
outlets is approximately 53 cfs (1.5 cubic meters per second) (COA 
1998, p. 13; Smith and Hunt 2004, p. 10; Hunt et al. 2012, p. 194). The 
lowest flow recorded at Barton Springs was about 10 cfs (0.2 cubic 
meters per second) during a record, multiyear drought in the 1950s (COA 
1998, p. 13). During the 2011 drought, 10-day average flows at Barton 
Springs reached 20 cfs (0.5 cubic meters per second) (Hunt et al. 2012, 
pp. 190, 195). Discharge at Barton Springs decreases as water levels in 
the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer drop. Decreased 
discharge is associated with increases in water temperature, decreases 
in spring flow velocity, and increases in sedimentation (COA 2011d, pp. 
19, 24, 27).
    The specific effects of low flow on central Texas salamanders can 
be inferred by examining studies on the Barton Springs salamander. 
Drought decreases spring flow and dissolved oxygen levels and increases 
temperature in Barton Springs (Turner 2004, p. 2; Turner 2009, p. 14). 
Low dissolved oxygen levels decrease reproduction in Barton Springs 
salamanders (Turner 2004, p. 6; 2009, p. 14). Turner (2009, p. 14) also 
found that Barton Springs salamander counts decline with decreasing 
discharge. The number of Barton Springs salamanders observed during 
surveys decreased during a prolonged drought from June 2008 through 
September 2009 (COA 2011d, pp. 19, 24, 27). The drought in 2011 also 
resulted in dissolved oxygen concentrations so low that COA used an 
aeration system to maintain oxygenated water in Eliza and Sunken 
Gardens Springs (Dries 2011, COA, pers. comm.). Drought also lowered 
water quality in Barton Springs due to saline water encroachments in 
the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer (Slade et al. 1986, 
p. 62; Johns 2006, p. 8).
    The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders may be able to 
persist through temporary surface habitat degradation because of their 
ability to retreat to subsurface habitat. Drought conditions are common 
to the region, and the ability to retreat underground may be an 
evolutionary adaptation to such natural conditions (Bendik 2011a, pp. 
31-32). However, it is important to note that, although salamanders may 
survive a drought by retreating underground, this does not necessarily 
mean they are resilient to long-term drought conditions (particularly 
because sites may already be affected by other, significant stressors, 
such as water quality declines).
    Drought may also affect surface habitats that are important for 
prey availability as well as individual and population growth. 
Therefore, sites with suitable surface flow and adequate prey 
availability are likely able to support larger population densities 
(Bendik 2012, COA, pers. comm.). Prey availability for carnivores, such 
as these salamanders, is low underground due to the lack of sunlight 
and primary production (Hobbs and Culver 2009, p. 392). Complete loss 
of surface habitat may lead to the extirpation of predominately 
subterranean populations that depend on surface flows for biomass input 
(Bendik 2012, COA, pers. comm.). In addition, length measurements taken 
during a COA mark-recapture study at Lanier Spring demonstrated that 
individual Jollyville Plateau salamanders exhibited negative growth 
(shrinkage) during a 10-month period of retreating to the subsurface 
from 2008 to 2009 (Bendik 2011b, COA, pers. comm.; Bendik and 
Gluesenkamp 2012, pp. 3-4). The authors of this study hypothesized that 
the negative growth could be the result of soft tissue contraction and/
or bone loss, but more research is needed to determine the physical 
mechanism with which the shrinkage occurs (Bendik and Gluesenkamp 2012, 
p. 5). Although this shrinkage in body length was followed by positive 
growth when normal spring flow returned, the long-term consequences of 
catch-up growth are unknown for these salamanders (Bendik and 
Gluesenkamp 2012, pp. 4-5). Therefore, threats to surface habitat at a 
given site may not extirpate populations of these salamander species in 
the short term, but this type of habitat degradation may severely limit 
population growth and increase a population's overall risk of 
extirpation from other stressors occurring in the surface watershed.
    The threat of water quantity degradation from drought by itself 
could cause irreversible declines in population sizes or habitat 
quality for the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. Also, 
it could negatively impact salamander populations in combination with 
other threats and contribute to significant declines in the size of the 
populations or habitat quality. For example, changes in water quantity 
will have direct impacts on the quality of that water, in terms of 
concentrations of contaminants and pollutants. Therefore, we consider 
this to be a threat of high impact for the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders now and in the future.
Climate Change
    The effects of climate change could potentially lead to detrimental 
impacts on aquifer-dependent species, especially coupled with other 
threats on water quality and quantity. Recharge, pumping, natural 
discharge, and saline intrusion of groundwater systems could all be 
affected by climate change (Mace

[[Page 51311]]

and Wade 2008, p. 657). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on 
Climate Change (IPCC 2007, p. 1), ``warming of the climate system is 
unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global 
averages of air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and 
ice, and rising global average sea level.'' Localized projections 
suggest the southwestern United States may experience the greatest 
temperature increase of any area in the lower 48 States (IPCC 2007, p. 
8), with warming increases in southwestern States greatest in the 
summer. The IPCC also predicts hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy 
precipitation will increase in frequency (IPCC 2007, p. 8). Evidence of 
climate change has been observed in Texas, such as the record-setting 
drought of 2011, with extreme droughts becoming much more probable than 
they were 40 to 50 years ago (Rupp et al. 2012, pp. 1053-1054).
    Climate change could compound the threat of decreased water 
quantity at salamander spring sites. An increased risk of drought could 
occur if evaporation exceeds precipitation levels in a particular 
region due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (CH2M HILL 
2007, p. 18). The Edwards Aquifer is also predicted to experience 
additional stress from climate change that could lead to decreased 
recharge (Lo[aacute]iciga et al. 2000, pp. 192-193). CH2M HILL (2007, 
pp. 22-23) identified possible effects of climate change on water 
resources within the Lower Colorado River Watershed (which contributes 
recharge to Barton Springs). A reduction of recharge to aquifers and a 
greater likelihood for more extreme droughts, such as the droughts of 
2008 to 2009 and 2011 mentioned above, were identified as potential 
impacts to water resources (CH2M HILL 2007, p. 23).
    Furthermore, climate change could affect rainfall and ambient 
temperatures, which are factors that may limit salamander populations. 
Different ambient temperatures in the season that rainfall occurs can 
influence spring water temperature if aquifers have fast transmission 
of rainfall to springs (Martin and Dean 1999, p. 238). Gillespie (2011, 
p. 24) found that reproductive success and juvenile survivorship in the 
Barton Springs salamander, which occurs at the three spring sites where 
the Austin blind salamander is known to occur, may be significantly 
influenced by fluctuations in mean monthly water temperature. This 
study also found that groundwater temperature is influenced by the 
season in which rainfall events occur over the recharge zone of the 
aquifer. When recharging rainfall events occur in winter when ambient 
temperature is low, mean monthly water temperature at Barton Springs 
and Eliza Spring can drop as low as 65.5[emsp14][deg]F (18.6 [deg]C) 
and remain below the annual average temperature of 70.1[emsp14][deg]F 
(21.2 [deg]C) for several months (Gillespie 2011, p. 24).
    The threat of water quantity degradation from climate change could 
negatively impact a population of any of the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders in combination with other threats and 
contribute to significant declines in population sizes or habitat 
quality. We consider this to be a threat of moderate impact for the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders now and in the future.

Physical Modification of Surface Habitat

    The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders are sensitive 
to direct physical modification of surface habitat from sedimentation, 
impoundments, flooding, feral hogs, livestock, and human activities. 
Direct mortality to salamanders can also occur as a result of these 
threats, such as being crushed by feral hogs, livestock, or humans.
Sedimentation
    Elevated mobilization of sediment (mixture of silt, sand, clay, and 
organic debris) is a stressor that occurs as a result of increased 
velocity of water running off impervious surfaces (Schram 1995, p. 88; 
Arnold and Gibbons 1996, pp. 244-245). Increased rates of stormwater 
runoff also cause increased erosion through scouring in headwater areas 
and sediment deposition in downstream channels (Booth 1991, pp. 93, 
102-105; Schram 1995, p. 88). Waterways are adversely affected in urban 
areas, where impervious cover levels are high, by sediment loads that 
are washed into streams or aquifers during storm events. Sediments are 
either deposited into layers or become suspended in the water column 
(Ford and Williams 1989, p. 537; Mahler and Lynch 1999, p. 177). 
Sediment derived from soil erosion has been cited as the greatest 
single source of pollution of surface waters by volume (Menzer and 
Nelson 1980, p. 632).
    Excessive sediment from stormwater runoff is a threat to the 
physical habitat of salamanders because it can cover substrates 
(Geismar 2005, p. 2). Sediments suspended in water can clog gill 
structures in aquatic animals, which can impair breathing and reduce 
their ability to avoid predators or locate food sources due to 
decreased visibility (Schueler 1987, p. 1.5). Excessive deposition of 
sediment in streams can physically reduce the amount of available 
habitat and protective cover for aquatic organisms, by filling the 
interstitial spaces of gravel and rocks where they could otherwise 
hide. As an example, a California study found that densities of two 
salamander species were significantly lower in streams that experienced 
a large infusion of sediment from road construction after a storm event 
(Welsh and Ollivier 1998, pp. 1,118-1,132). The vulnerability of the 
salamander species in this California study was attributed to their 
reliance on interstitial spaces in the streambed habitats (Welsh and 
Ollivier 1998, p. 1,128).
    Excessive sedimentation has contributed to declines in Jollyville 
Plateau salamander populations in the past. Monitoring by the COA found 
that, as sediment deposition increased at several sites, salamander 
abundances significantly decreased (COA 2001, pp. 101, 126). 
Additionally, the COA found that sediment deposition rates have 
increased significantly along one of the long-term monitoring sites 
(Bull Creek Tributary 5) as a result of construction activities 
upstream (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 34). This site has had significant 
declines in salamander abundance, based on 10 years of monitoring, and 
the COA attributes this decline to the increases in sedimentation 
(O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 34-35). The location of this monitoring 
site is within a large preserved tract. However, the headwaters of this 
drainage are outside the preserve and the development in this area 
increased sedimentation downstream and impacted salamander habitat 
within the preserved tract.
    Effects of sedimentation on the Austin blind salamander is expected 
to be similar to the effects on the Jollyville Plateau salamander based 
on similarities in their ecology and life history needs. Analogies can 
also be drawn from data on the Barton Springs salamander. Barton Spring 
salamander population numbers are adversely affected by high turbidity 
and sedimentation (COA 1997, p. 13). Sediments discharge through Barton 
Springs, even during baseflow conditions (not related to a storm event) 
(Geismar 2005, p. 12). Storms can increase sedimentation rates 
substantially (Geismar 2005, p. 12). Areas in the immediate vicinity of 
the spring outflows lack sediment, but the remaining bedrock is 
sometimes covered with a layer of sediment several inches thick 
(Geismar 2005, p. 5). Sedimentation is a direct threat for the Austin 
blind salamander because its

[[Page 51312]]

surface habitat in Barton Springs would fill with sediment if it were 
not for regular maintenance and removal (Geismar 2005, p. 12). Further 
development in the Barton Creek watershed, which contributes recharge 
to Barton Springs, will most likely be associated with diminished water 
clarity and a reduction in biodiversity of flora (COA 1997, p. 7). 
Additional threats from sediments as a source of contaminants were 
discussed in the ``Contaminants and Pollutants'' under the ``Water 
Quality Degradation'' section above.
    The threat of physical modification of surface habitat from 
sedimentation by itself could cause irreversible declines in population 
sizes or habitat quality for any of the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders' populations. It could also negatively impact the 
species in combination with other threats to contribute to significant 
declines. We consider this to be an ongoing threat of high impact for 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders that is likely to 
increase in the future.
Impoundments
    Impoundments can alter the salamanders' physical habitat in a 
variety of ways that are detrimental. They can alter the natural flow 
regime of streams, increase siltation, and support larger, predatory 
fish (Bendik 2011b, COA, pers. comm.), leading to a variety of impacts 
to the salamanders and their surface habitats. For example, a low-water 
crossing on a tributary of Bull Creek occupied by the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander resulted in sediment buildup above the impoundment 
and a scour hole below the impoundment that supported predaceous fish 
(Bendik 2011b, COA, pers. comm.). As a result, Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders were not found in this degraded habitat after the 
impoundment was constructed. When the crossing was removed in October 
2008, the sediment buildup was removed, the scour hole was filled, and 
salamanders were later observed (Bendik 2011b, COA, pers. comm.). Many 
low-water crossings are present near other Jollyville Plateau 
salamander sites (Bendik 2011b, COA, pers. comm.).
    All spring sites for the Austin blind salamander (Main, Eliza, and 
Sunken Garden Springs) have been impounded for recreational use. These 
sites were impounded in the early to mid-1900s. For example, a 
circular, stone amphitheater was built around Eliza Springs in the 
early 1900s. A concrete bottom was installed over the natural substrate 
at this site in the 1960s. It now discharges from 7 openings (each 1 ft 
(0.3 m) in diameter) in the concrete floor and 13 rectangular vents 
along the edges of the concrete, which were created by the COA to help 
restore flow. While the manmade structures help retain water in the 
spring pools during low flows, they have altered the salamander's 
natural environment. The impoundments have changed the Barton Springs 
ecosystem from a stream-like system to a more lentic (still water) 
environment, thereby reducing the water system's ability to flush 
sediments downstream and out of salamander habitat. Although a natural 
surface flow connection between Sunken Gardens Spring and Barton Creek 
has been restored recently (COA 2007a, p. 6), the Barton Springs system 
as a whole remains highly modified.
    The threat of physical modification of surface habitat from 
impoundments by itself may not be likely to cause significant 
population declines, but it could negatively impact the species in 
combination with other threats and contribute to significant declines 
in the population size or habitat quality. We consider impoundments to 
be an ongoing threat of moderate impact to the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders and their surface habitats that will 
likely continue in the future.
Flooding
    Flooding as a result of rainfall events can considerably alter the 
substrate and hydrology of salamander habitat. Extreme flood events 
have occurred in the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamander's 
surface habitats (Pierce 2011a, p. 10; TPWD 2011, p. 6; Turner 2009, p. 
11; O'Donnell et al. 2005, p. 15). The increased flow rate from 
flooding causes unusually high dissolved oxygen concentrations, which 
may exert direct or indirect, sublethal effects (reduced reproduction 
or foraging success) on salamanders (Turner 2009, p. 11). Salamanders 
also may be flushed from the surface habitat by strong flows during 
flooding. Bowles et al. (2006, p. 117) observed no Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders in riffle habitat at one site during high water velocities 
and hypothesized that individual salamanders were either flushed 
downstream or retreated to the subsurface.
    An increase in the frequency of flood events causes streambank and 
streambed erosion (Coles et al. 2012, p. 19), which can deposit 
sediment into salamander habitat. For example, Geismar (2005, p. 2) 
found that flooding increases contaminants and sediments in Barton 
Springs. In 2007, flooding resulted in repeated accumulation of 
sediment in the Barton Springs Pool that was so rapid that cleaning by 
COA staff was not frequent enough to keep the surface habitat from 
becoming embedded (COA 2007a, p. 4).
    Flooding can alter the surface salamander habitat by deepening 
stream channels, which may increase habitat for predaceous fish. Much 
of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders' surface habitat 
is characterized by shallow water depth (COA 2001, p. 128; Pierce 
2011a, p. 3), with the exception of the Austin blind salamander at Main 
and Sunken Garden Springs. However, deep pools are sometimes formed 
within stream channels from the scouring of floods. Tumlison et al. 
(1990, p. 172) found that the abundance of one Eurycea species 
decreased as water depth increased. This relationship may be caused by 
an increase in predation pressure, as deeper water supports predaceous 
fish populations. However, several central Texas Eurycea species are 
able to survive in deep water environments in the presence of many 
predators. For example, San Marcos salamander in Spring Lake, Eurycea 
sp. in Landa Lake, and Barton Springs salamander in Barton Springs 
Pool. All of these sites have vegetative cover, which may allow 
salamanders to avoid predation. Anti-predator behaviors may allow these 
species to co-exist with predaceous fish, but the effectiveness of 
these behaviors may be species-specific (reviewed in Pierce and Wall 
2011, pp. 18-19) and many of the shallow, surface habitats of the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander do not have much vegetative cover.
    The threat of physical modification of surface habitat from 
flooding by itself may not be likely to cause significant population 
declines, but it could negatively impact the species in combination 
with other threats and contribute to significant declines in the 
population size or habitat quality. We consider this to be a threat of 
moderate impact to the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
that may increase in the future as urbanization and impervious cover 
increases within the surface watersheds of these species, causing more 
frequent and more intense streamflow flash flooding (see discussion in 
the ``Urbanization'' section under ``Water Quality Degradation'' 
above).
Feral Hogs
    There are between 1.8 and 3.4 million feral hogs (Sus scrofa) in 
Texas (Texas A&M University (TAMU) 2011, p. 2), which is another source 
of physical habitat disturbance to salamander surface sites. They 
prefer to live around moist areas, including riparian areas near 
streams, where they can dig into the soft ground for food and wallow in

[[Page 51313]]

mud to keep cool (Mapson 2004, pp. 11, 14-15). Feral hogs disrupt these 
ecosystems by decreasing plant species diversity, increasing invasive 
species abundance, increasing soil nitrogen, and exposing bare ground 
(TAMU 2012, p. 4). Feral hogs negatively impact surface salamander 
habitat by digging and wallowing in spring heads, which increases 
sedimentation downstream (O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 34, 46). This 
activity can also result in direct mortality of amphibians (Bull 2009, 
p. 243).
    Feral hogs have become abundant in some areas where the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander occurs. O'Donnell et al. (2006, p. 34) noted that 
feral hog activity was increasing in the Bull and Cypress Creeks 
watersheds. Fortunately, feral hogs cannot access Austin blind 
salamander sites due to fencing and their location in downtown Austin.
    The threat of physical modification of surface habitat from feral 
hogs by itself may not be likely to cause significant population 
declines, but it could negatively impact the species in combination 
with other threats and contribute to significant declines in the 
population size or habitat quality. We consider this to be an ongoing 
threat of moderate impact to the Jollyville Plateau salamander that 
will likely continue in the future. We do not consider physical habitat 
modification from feral hogs to be a threat to the Austin blind 
salamander at this time or in the future.
Livestock
    Similar to feral hogs, livestock can negatively impact surface 
salamander habitat by disturbing the substrate and increasing 
sedimentation in the spring run where salamanders are often found. 
Poorly managed livestock grazing results in changes in vegetation (from 
grass-dominated to brush-dominated), which leads to increased erosion 
of the soil profile along stream banks (COA 1995, pp. 3-59) and 
sediment in salamander habitat. However, the Austin blind salamander's 
habitat is inside a COA park, and livestock are not allowed in the 
spring areas. Also, much of the Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat 
is in suburban areas, and we are not aware of livestock access to or 
damage in those areas. Therefore, we do not consider physical habitat 
modification from livestock to be a threat to the Austin blind or 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders at this time or in the future.
Other Human Activities
    Some sites of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
have been directly modified by human-related activities. Frequent human 
visitation of sites occupied by the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders may negatively affect the species and their habitat. 
Documentation from the COA of disturbed vegetation, vandalism, and the 
destruction of travertine deposits (fragile rock formations formed by 
deposit of calcium carbonate on stream bottoms) by foot traffic has 
been documented at one of their Jollyville Plateau salamander 
monitoring sites in the Bull Creek watershed (COA 2001, p. 21) and may 
have resulted in direct destruction of small amounts of the 
salamander's habitat. Other Jollyville Plateau salamander sites have 
also been impacted. Both Stillhouse Hollow Spring and Balcones District 
Park regularly receive visitors that modify the available cover habitat 
(by removing or arranging substrates). Balcones District Park is also 
regularly disturbed by off-leash dog traffic (Bendik 2012, COA, pers. 
comm.). Eliza Spring and Sunken Garden Spring, two of the three 
locations of the Austin blind salamander, also experience vandalism, 
despite the presence of fencing and signage (Dries 2011, COA, pers. 
comm.). The deep water of the third location (Parthenia Springs) likely 
protects the Austin blind salamander's surface habitat from damage from 
frequent human recreation. All of these activities can reduce the 
amount of cover available for salamander breeding, feeding, and 
sheltering.
    The threat of physical modification of surface habitat from human 
visitation, recreation, and alteration by itself may not be likely to 
cause significant population declines, but it could negatively impact 
the species in combination with other threats and contribute to 
significant declines in the population size or habitat quality. We 
consider this to be an ongoing threat of moderate impact to the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders that will likely continue in 
the future.
Conservation Efforts To Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Range
    When considering the listing determination of species, it is 
important to consider conservation efforts that have been made to 
reduce or remove threats, such as the threats to the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau Texas salamanders' habitat. A number of efforts have 
aimed at minimizing the habitat destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of the salamanders' ranges.
    In a separate undertaking, and with the help of a grant funded 
through section 6 of the Act, the WCCF developed the Williamson County 
Regional HCP to obtain a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit for incidental take 
of federally listed endangered species in Williamson County, Texas. 
This HCP became final in October 2008. Although Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders present in southern Williamson County are likely influenced 
by the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone in northern Williamson County, the 
Williamson County Regional HCP does not include considerations for this 
species. However, in 2012, the WCCF began contracting to gather 
information on the Jollyville Plateau salamander in Williamson County.
    Travis County and COA also have a regional HCP (the Balcones 
Canyonlands Conservation Plan) and section 10(a)(1)(B) permit that 
covers incidental take of federally listed species in Travis County. 
While the Jollyville Plateau salamander is not a covered species under 
that permit, the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system offers some 
benefits to the Jollyville Plateau salamander in portions of the Bull 
Creek, Brushy Creek, Cypress Creek, and Long Hollow Creek drainages 
through preservation of open space (Service 1996, pp. 2-28, 2-29). 
Sixty-seven of 106 surface sites for the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
are within Balcones Canyonlands Preserves. However, eight of the nine 
COA monitoring sites occupied by the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve have experienced water quality 
degradation from disturbances occurring upstream and outside of the 
preserved tracts (O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 29, 34, 37, 49; COA 1999, 
pp. 6-11; Travis County 2007, p. 4).
    Additionally, the Buttercup Creek HCP was established to avoid, 
minimize, and mitigate for the potential negative effects of 
construction and operation of single and multifamily residences and a 
school near and adjacent to currently occupied habitat of the 
endangered Tooth Cave ground beetle (Rhadine persephone) and other rare 
cave and karst species, including the Jollyville Plateau salamander, 
and to contribute to conservation of the listed and non-listed cave or 
karst fauna. The Buttercup HCP authorizes incidental take of endangered 
karst invertebrates, if encountered during construction. Under the 
Buttercup HCP, mitigation for take of the karst invertebrates was 
implemented by setting aside 12 separate cave preserves (130 ac (53 
ha), 37 caves) and two greenbelt flood plains (33 ac (13 ha)) for a 
total of 163 ac (66 ha), which remain in a natural

[[Page 51314]]

undisturbed condition and are preserved in perpetuity for the benefit 
of the listed and non-listed species. There are 21 occupied endangered 
karst invertebrate caves and 10 Jollyville Plateau salamander caves in 
the preserves. The shape and size of each preserve was designed to 
include surface drainage basins for all caves, the subsurface extent of 
all caves, and connectivity between nearby caves and features. 
Additionally, for those more sensitive cave preserves, particularly 
with regard to recharge, 7 of the 12 preserves are to be fenced off to 
restrict access for only maintenance, monitoring, and research. All 
preserves are regularly monitored, fences and gates are checked and 
repaired, and red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) controlled. 
Surface water drainage from streets and parking areas will be diverted 
by permanent diversion structures to treatment systems and detention 
ponds or will discharge down-gradient of the cave preserves. An 
additional 3 to 4 in (76 to 102 mm) of topsoil are added in yards and 
landscaped areas for additional filtration and absorption of 
fertilizers, pesticides, and other common constituents, and an 
education and outreach program informs homeowners about the proper use 
of fertilizers and pesticides, the benefits of native landscaping, and 
the disposal of household hazardous waste.
    In addition, several individual 10(a)(1)(B) permit holders in 
Travis County have established preserves and included provisions that 
are expected to benefit the Jollyville Plateau salamander. Twelve of 
the 16 known caves for the Jollyville Plateau salamander are located 
within preserves. Similar to the Williamson County Regional HCP and 
Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, there is potential for adverse 
effects to salamander sites from land use activities outside the 
covered areas under the HCPs.
    Furthermore, the COA is implementing the Barton Springs Pool HCP to 
avoid, minimize, and mitigate incidental take of the Barton Springs 
salamander resulting from the continued operation and maintenance of 
Barton Springs Pool and adjacent springs (COA 1998, pp. 1-53). Many of 
the provisions of the plan also benefit the Austin blind salamander. 
These provisions include: (1) Training lifeguard and maintenance staff 
to protect salamander habitat, (2) controlling erosion and preventing 
surface runoff from entering the springs, (3) ecological enhancement 
and restoration, (4) monthly monitoring of salamander numbers, (5) 
public outreach and education, and (6) establishment and maintenance of 
a captive-breeding program, which includes the Austin blind salamander. 
As part of this HCP, the COA completed habitat restoration of Eliza 
Spring and the main pool of Barton Springs in 2003 and 2004. A more 
natural flow regime was reconstructed in these habitats by removing 
large obstructions to flow. This HCP has recently been proposed for 
revision to include coverage for the Austin blind salamander and to 
extend the COA's permit for another 20 years (78 FR 23780, April 22, 
2013).
    Although these conservation efforts likely contribute water quality 
benefits to surface flow, surface habitats can be influenced by land 
use throughout the recharge zone of the aquifer that supplies its 
spring flow. Furthermore, the surface areas influencing subsurface 
water quality (that is draining the surface and flowing to the 
subsurface habitat) is not clearly delineated for many of the sites 
(springs or caves) for the Austin blind or Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders. Because we are not able to precisely assess additional 
pathways for negative impacts to these salamanders to occur, many of 
their sites may be affected by threats that cannot be mitigated through 
the conservation efforts that are currently ongoing.
Conclusion of Factor A
    Degradation of habitat, in the form of reduced water quality and 
quantity and disturbance of spring sites (physical modification of 
surface habitat), is the primary threat to the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders. This threat may affect only the surface 
habitat, only the subsurface habitat, or both habitat types. In 
consideration of the stressors currently impacting the salamander 
species and their habitats along with their risk of exposure to 
potential sources of this threat, we have found the threat of habitat 
destruction and modification within the ranges of the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders to have severe impacts on these species, 
and we expect this threat to continue into the future.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    There is little available information regarding overutilization of 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes, although we are 
aware that some individuals of these species have been collected from 
their natural habitat for a variety of purposes. Collecting individuals 
from populations that are already small enough to experience reduced 
reproduction and survival due to inbreeding depression or become 
extirpated due to environmental or demographic stochasticity and other 
catastrophic events (see the discussion on small population sizes under 
Factor E--Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued 
Existence below) can pose a risk to the continued existence of these 
populations. Additionally, there are no regulations currently in place 
to prevent or restrict the collections of salamanders from their 
habitat in the wild for scientific or other purposes, and we know of no 
plans within the scientific community to limit the amount or frequency 
of collections at known salamander locations. We recognize the 
importance of collecting for scientific purposes, such as for research, 
captive assurance programs, taxonomic analyses, and museum collections. 
However, removing individuals from small, localized populations in the 
wild, without any proposed plans or regulations to restrict these 
activities, could increase the population's vulnerability and decrease 
its resiliency and ability to withstand stochastic events.
    Currently, we do not consider overutilization from collecting 
salamanders in the wild to be a threat by itself, but it may contribute 
to significant population declines, and could negatively impact the 
species in combination with other threats.

C. Disease or Predation

    Chytridiomycosis (chytrid fungus) is a fungal disease that is 
responsible for killing amphibians worldwide (Daszak et al. 2000, p. 
445). The chytrid fungus has been documented on the feet of Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders from 15 different sites in the wild (O'Donnell et 
al. 2006, pp. 22-23; Gaertner et al. 2009, pp. 22-23) and on Austin 
blind salamanders in captivity (Chamberlain 2011, COA, pers. comm.). 
However, the salamanders are not displaying any noticeable health 
effects (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 23). We do not consider 
chytridiomycosis to be a threat to the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders at this time. We have no data to indicate that 
impacts from this disease may increase or decrease in the future.
    A condition affecting Barton Springs salamanders may also affect 
the Austin blind salamander. In 2002, 19 Barton Springs salamanders, 
which co-occur with the Austin blind salamander, were found at Barton 
Springs with bubbles of gas occurring throughout their bodies 
(Chamberlain and O'Donnell 2003, p.

[[Page 51315]]

17). Three similarly affected Barton Springs salamanders also were 
found in 2003 (Chamberlain and O'Donnell 2003, pp. 17-18). Of the 19 
salamanders affected in 2002, 12 were found dead or died shortly after 
they were found. Both adult and juvenile Barton Springs salamanders 
have been affected (Chamberlain and O'Donnell 2003, pp. 10, 17).
    The incidence of gas bubbles in salamanders at Barton Springs is 
consistent with a disorder known as gas bubble disease, or gas bubble 
trauma, as described by Weitkamp and Katz (1980, pp. 664-671). In 
animals with gas bubble trauma, bubbles below the surface of the body 
and inside the cardiovascular system produce lesions and dead tissue 
that can lead to secondary infections (Weitkamp and Katz 1980, p. 670). 
Death from gas bubble trauma is apparently related to an accumulation 
of internal bubbles in the cardiovascular system (Weitkamp and Katz 
1980, p. 668). Pathology reports on affected animals at Barton Springs 
found that the symptoms were consistent with gas bubble trauma 
(Chamberlain and O'Donnell 2003, pp. 17-18). The cause of gas bubble 
trauma is unknown, but its incidence has been correlated with water 
temperature. Gas bubble trauma has been observed in wild Barton Springs 
salamanders only on rare occasions (Chamberlain, unpublished data) and 
has been observed in Austin blind salamanders in captivity only when 
exposed to water temperatures approaching 80[emsp14][deg]F (26.7 
[deg]C) (Chamberlain 2011, COA, pers. comm.). Given these limited 
observations, we do not consider gas bubble trauma to be a threat to 
the Austin blind salamander now or in the future.
    To our knowledge, gas bubble trauma has not been observed in 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders. However, if an increase in water 
temperature is a causative factor, this species may also be at risk 
during droughts or other environmental stressors that result in 
increases in water temperature.
    Regarding predation, COA biologists found Jollyville Plateau 
salamander abundances were negatively correlated with the abundance of 
predatory centrarchid fish (carnivorous freshwater fish belonging to 
the sunfish family), such as black bass (Micropterus spp.) and sunfish 
(Lepomis spp.) (COA 2001, p. 102). Predation of a Jollyville Plateau 
salamander by a centrarchid fish was observed during a May 2006 field 
survey (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 38). However, Bowles et al. (2006, 
pp. 117-118) rarely observed these predators in Jollyville Plateau 
salamander habitat. Centrarchid fish are currently present in two of 
three Austin blind salamander sites (Gillespie 2011, p. 87). Crayfish 
(another predator) occur in much of the habitat occupied by Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders. Both the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders have been observed retreating into gravel substrate after 
cover was moved, suggesting these salamanders display antipredation 
behavior (Bowles et al. 2006, p. 117). Another study found that San 
Marcos salamanders (Eurycea nana) have the ability to recognize and 
show antipredator response to the chemical cues of introduced and 
native centrarchid fish predators (Epp and Gabor 2008, p. 612). 
However, we do not have enough data to indicate whether predation is a 
significant limiting factor for the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders.
    In summary, while disease and predation may be affecting 
individuals of these salamander species, these are not significant 
factors affecting the species' continued existence in healthy, natural 
ecosystems. Neither disease nor predation is occurring at a level that 
we consider to be a threat to the continued existence of the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders now or in the future.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The primary threats to the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders are habitat degradation related to a reduction of water 
quality and quantity and disturbance at spring sites (see discussion 
under Factor A above). Therefore, regulatory mechanisms that protect 
water from the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers are crucial to the future 
survival of these species. Federal, State, and local laws and 
regulations have been insufficient to prevent past and ongoing impacts 
to the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders and their 
habitats from water quality degradation, reduction in water quantity, 
and surface disturbance of spring sites, and are unlikely to prevent 
further impacts to the species in the future.
State and Federal Regulations
    Laws and regulations pertaining to endangered or threatened animal 
species in the State of Texas are contained in Chapters 67 and 68 of 
the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Code and Sections 
65.171-65.176 of Title 31 of the Texas Administrative Code (T.A.C.). 
TPWD regulations prohibit the taking, possession, transportation, or 
sale of any of the animal species designated by State law as endangered 
or threatened without the issuance of a permit. The Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders are not listed on the Texas State List 
of Endangered or Threatened Species (TPWD 2013, p. 3). Even if they 
were, State threatened and endangered species laws do not contain 
protective provisions for habitat. At this time, these species are 
receiving no direct protection from State of Texas regulations.
    Under authority of the T.A.C. (Title 30, Chapter 213), the TCEQ 
regulates activities having the potential for polluting the Edwards 
Aquifer and hydrologically connected surface streams through the 
Edwards Aquifer Protection Program or ``Edwards Rules.'' The Edwards 
Rules require a number of water quality protection measures for new 
development occurring in the recharge, transition, and contributing 
zones of the Edwards Aquifer. The Edwards Rules were enacted to protect 
existing and potential uses of groundwater and maintain Texas Surface 
Water Quality Standards. Specifically, a water pollution abatement plan 
(WPAP) must be submitted to the TCEQ in order to conduct any 
construction-related or post-construction activities on the recharge 
zone. The WPAP must include a description of the site and location 
maps, a geologic assessment conducted by a geologist, and a technical 
report describing, among other things, temporary and permanent best 
management practices (BMPs).
    However, the permanent BMPs and measures identified in the WPAP are 
designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to remove 80 percent of 
the incremental increase in annual mass loading of total suspended 
solids from the site caused by the regulated activity. This necessarily 
results in some level of water quality degradation since up to 20 
percent of total suspended solids are ultimately discharged from the 
site into receiving waterways. Separate Edwards Aquifer protection 
plans are required for organized sewage collection systems, underground 
storage tank facilities, and aboveground storage tank facilities. 
Regulated activities exempt from the requirements of the Edwards Rules 
are: (1) The installation of natural gas lines; (2) the installation of 
telephone lines; (3) the installation of electric lines; (4) the 
installation of water lines; and (5) the installation of other utility 
lines that are not designed to carry and will not carry pollutants, 
storm water runoff, sewage effluent, or treated effluent from a 
wastewater treatment facility.
    Temporary erosion and sedimentation controls are required to be 
installed and

[[Page 51316]]

maintained for any exempted activities located on the recharge zone. 
Individual land owners who seek to construct single-family residences 
on sites are exempt from the Edwards Aquifer protection plan 
application requirements provided the plans do not exceed 20 percent 
impervious cover. Similarly, the Executive Director of the TCEQ may 
waive the requirements for permanent BMPs for multifamily residential 
subdivisions, schools, or small businesses when 20 percent or less 
impervious cover is used at the site.
    The best available science indicates that measurable degradation of 
stream habitat and loss of biotic integrity occurs at levels of 
impervious cover within a watershed much less than this (see Factor A 
discussion above). The single known location of the Austin blind 
salamander and half of the known Jollyville Plateau salamander 
locations occur within those portions of the Edwards Aquifer regulated 
by the TCEQ. The TCEQ regulations do not address land use, impervious 
cover limitations, some nonpoint-source pollution, or application of 
fertilizers and pesticides over the recharge zone (30 TAC 213.3). In 
addition, these regulations were not intended or designed specifically 
to be protective of the salamanders. We are unaware of any water 
quality ordinances more restrictive than the TCEQ's Edwards Rules in 
Travis or Williamson Counties outside the COA.
    Texas has an extensive program for the management and protection of 
water that operates under State statutes and the Federal Clean Water 
Act (CWA). It includes regulatory programs such as the following: Texas 
Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, Texas Surface Water Quality 
Standards, and Total Maximum Daily Load Program (under Section 303(d) 
of the CWA).
    In 1998, the State of Texas assumed the authority from the 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to administer the National 
Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. As a result, the TCEQ's TPDES 
program has regulatory authority over discharges of pollutants to Texas 
surface water, with the exception of discharges associated with oil, 
gas, and geothermal exploration and development activities, which are 
regulated by the Railroad Commission of Texas. In addition, stormwater 
discharges as a result of agricultural activities are not subject to 
TPDES permitting requirements. The TCEQ issues two general permits that 
authorize the discharge of stormwater and non-stormwater to surface 
waters in the State associated with: (1) small municipal separate storm 
sewer systems (MS4) (TPDES General Permit TXR040000) and (2) 
construction sites (TPDES General Permit TXR150000). The MS4 
permit covers small municipal separate storm sewer systems that were 
fully or partially located within an urbanized area, as determined by 
the 2000 Decennial Census by the U.S. Census Bureau, and the 
construction general permit covers discharges of storm water runoff 
from small and large construction activities impacting greater than 1 
acre of land. In addition, both of these permits require new discharges 
to meet the requirements of the Edwards Rules.
    To be covered under the MS4 general permit, a municipality must 
submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) and a copy of their Storm Water 
Management Program (SWMP) to TCEQ. The SWMP must include a description 
of how that municipality is implementing the seven minimum control 
measures, which include the following: (1) Public education and 
outreach; (2) public involvement and participation; (3) detection and 
elimination of illicit discharges; (4) construction site stormwater 
runoff control (when greater than 1 ac (0.4 ha) is disturbed); (5) 
post-construction stormwater management; (6) pollution prevention and 
good housekeeping for municipal operations; and (7) authorization for 
municipal construction activities (optional). Municipalities located 
within the range of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
that are covered under the MS4 general permit include the Cities of 
Cedar Park, Round Rock, Austin, Leander, and Pflugerville, as well as 
Travis and Williamson Counties.
    To be covered under the construction general permit, an applicant 
must prepare a stormwater pollution and prevention plan (SWP3) that 
describes the implementation of practices that will be used to 
minimize, to the extent practicable, the discharge of pollutants in 
stormwater associated with construction activity and non-stormwater 
discharges. For activities that disturb greater than 5 ac (2 ha), the 
applicant must submit an NOI to TCEQ as part of the approval process. 
As stated above, the two general permits issued by the TCEQ do not 
address discharge of pollutants to surface waters from oil, gas, and 
geothermal exploration and geothermal development activities, 
stormwater discharges associated with agricultural activities, and from 
activities disturbing less than 5 acres (2 ha) of land. Despite the 
significant value the TPDES program has in regulating point-source 
pollution discharged to surface waters in Texas, it does not adequately 
address all sources of water quality degradation, including nonpoint-
source pollution and the exceptions mentioned above, that have the 
potential to negatively impact the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders.
    In reviewing the 2010 and 2012 Texas Water Quality Integrated 
Reports prepared by the TCEQ, the Service identified 14 of 28 (50 
percent) stream segments located within surface watersheds occupied by 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders where parameters 
within water samples exceeded screening level criteria (TCEQ 2010a, pp. 
546-624; TCEQ 2010b, pp. 34-68; TCEQ 2012b, pp. 35-70; TCEQ 2012c, pp. 
646-736). Four of these 28 (14 percent) stream segments have been 
identified as impaired waters as required under sections 303(d) and 
304(a) of the Clean Water Act ``. . .for which effluent limitations are 
not stringent enough to implement water quality standards'' (TCEQ 
2010c, pp. 77, 82-83; TCEQ 2012d, pp. 67, 73). The analysis of surface 
water quality monitoring data collected by TCEQ indicated ``screening 
level concerns'' for nitrate, dissolved oxygen, impaired benthic 
communities, sediment toxicity, and bacteria. The TCEQ screening level 
for nitrate (1.95 mg/L) is within the range of concentrations (1.0 to 
3.6 mg/L) above which the scientific literature indicates may be toxic 
to aquatic organisms (Camargo et al. 2005, p. 1,264; Hickey and Martin 
2009, pp. ii, 17-18; Rouse 1999, p. 802). In addition, the TCEQ 
screening level for dissolved oxygen (5.0 mg/L) is similar to that 
recommended by the Service in 2006 to be protective of federally listed 
salamanders (White et al. 2006, p. 51). Therefore, water quality data 
collected and summarized by the TCEQ supports our concerns with the 
adequacy of existing regulations to protect the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders from the effects of water quality 
degradation.
    To discharge effluent onto the land, the TCEQ requires wastewater 
treatment systems within the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards 
Aquifer recharge and contributing zones to obtain Texas Land 
Application Permits (TLAP) (Ross 2011, p. 7). Although these permits 
are designed to protect the surface waters and underground aquifer, 
studies have demonstrated reduced water quality downstream of TLAP 
sites (Mahler et al. 2011, pp. 34-35; Ross 2011, pp. 11-18). Ross 
(2011, pp. 18-21) attributes this to the TCEQ's failure to conduct 
regular soil monitoring for nutrient accumulation on TLAP sites and the 
failure to conduct in-depth reviews of TLAP applications. A study

[[Page 51317]]

by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that baseline water quality in 
the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which is occupied by 
the Austin blind salamander, in terms of nitrate had shifted upward 
between 2001 and 2010 and was at least partially the result of an 
increase in the land application of treated wastewater (Mahler et al. 
2011, pp. 34-35).
Local Ordinances and Regulations
    The COA's water quality ordinances (COA Code, Title 25, Chapter 8) 
provide some water quality regulatory protection to the Austin blind 
and Jollyville Plateau salamander's habitat within Travis County. Some 
of the protections include buffers around critical environmental 
features and waterways (up to 400 ft (122 m)), permanent water quality 
control structures (sedimentation and filtration ponds), wastewater 
system restrictions, and impervious cover limitations (COA Code, title 
25, Chapter 8; Turner 2007, pp. 1-2). The ordinances range from 
relatively strict controls in its Drinking Water Protection Zones to 
lesser controls in its Desired Development Zones. For example, a 15 
percent impervious cover limit is in place for new developments within 
portions of the Barton Springs Zone, one of the Drinking Water 
Protection Zones, while up to 90 percent impervious cover is permitted 
within the Suburban City Limits Zone, one of the Desired Development 
Zones.
    In the period after the COA passed water quality ordinances in 1986 
and 1991, sedimentation and nutrients decreased in the five major 
Austin-area creeks (Turner 2007, p. 7). Peak storm flows were also 
lower after the enactment of the ordinances, which may explain the 
decrease in sedimentation (Turner 2007, p. 10). Likewise, a separate 
study on the water quality of Walnut Creek (Jollyville Plateau 
salamander habitat) from 1996 to 2008 found that water quality has 
either remained the same or improved (Scoggins 2010, p. 15). These 
trends in water quality occurred despite a drastic increase in 
construction and impervious cover during the same time period (Turner 
2007, pp. 7-8; Scoggins 2010, p. 4), indicating that the ordinances are 
effective at mitigating some of the impacts of development on water 
quality. Another study in the Austin area compared 18 sites with 
stormwater controls (retention ponds) in their watersheds to 20 sites 
without stormwater controls (Maxted and Scoggins 2004, p. 8). In sites 
with more than 40 percent impervious cover, more contaminant-sensitive 
macroinvertebrate species were found at sites with stormwater controls 
than at sites without controls (Maxted and Scoggins 2004, p. 11).
    Local ordinances have not been completely effective at protecting 
water quality to the extent that sedimentation, contaminants, 
pollution, and changes in water chemistry no longer impact salamander 
habitat (see ``Stressors and Sources of Water Quality Degradation'' 
discussion under Factor A above). A study conducted by the COA of four 
Jollyville Plateau salamander spring sites within two subdivisions 
found that stricter water quality controls (wet ponds instead of 
standard sedimentation/filtration ponds) did not necessarily translate 
into improved groundwater quality (Herrington et al. 2007, pp. 13-14). 
In addition, water quality data analyzed by the COA showed significant 
increases in conductivity, nitrate, and sodium between 1997 and 2005 at 
two Jollyville Plateau salamander long-term monitoring sites, which 
also had significant declines in salamander counts (O'Donnell et al. 
2006, p. 12).
    In addition, Title 7, Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government 
Code permits ``grandfathering'' of certain local regulations. 
Grandfathering allows developments to be exempted from new requirements 
for water quality controls and impervious cover limits if the 
developments were planned prior to the implementation of such 
regulations. However, these developments are still obligated to comply 
with regulations that were applicable at the time when project 
applications for development were first filed (Title 7, Chapter 245 of 
the Texas Local Government Code, p. 1).
    On January 1, 2006, the COA banned the use of coal tar sealant 
(Scoggins et al. 2009, p. 4909), which has been shown to be the main 
source of PAHs in Austin-area streams (Mahler et al. 2005, p. 5,565). 
However, historically applied coal tar sealant lasts for several years 
and can remain a source of PAHs to aquatic systems (DeMott et al. 2010, 
p. 372). A study that examined PAH concentrations in Austin streams 
before the ban and 2 years after the ban found no difference, 
indicating that either more time is needed to see the impact of the 
coal tar ban, or that other sources (for example, airborne and 
automotive) are contributing more to PAH loadings (DeMott et al. 2010, 
pp. 375-377). Furthermore, coal tar sealant is still legal outside of 
the COA's jurisdiction and may be contributing PAH loads to northern 
portions of the Jollyville Plateau salamander's habitat.
    The LCRA Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance applies to lands 
located within the Lake Travis watershed in northwestern Travis County, 
as well as portions of Burnet and Llano Counties. This ordinance was 
implemented by LCRA beginning in 2006 to protect water quality in the 
Highland Lakes region. There are 14 Jollyville Plateau salamander sites 
located within the northwestern portion of Travis County covered by 
this ordinance. Development in this area is required to protect water 
quality by: (1) Providing water quality volume based on the 1-year 
storm runoff in approved best management practices (BMPs) (practices 
that effectively manage stormwater runoff quality and volume), (2) 
providing buffer zones around creeks that remain free of most 
construction activities, (3) installing temporary erosion and sediment 
control, (4) conducting water quality education, and (5) requiring 
water quality performance monitoring of certain BMPs. However, as with 
TPDES permitting discussed above, agricultural activities are exempt 
from the water quality requirements contained in the Highland Lakes 
Watershed Ordinance (LCRA 2005, pp. 8-21).
    The Cities of Cedar Park and Round Rock, and Travis and Williamson 
Counties have some jurisdiction within watersheds occupied by either 
the Austin blind or Jollyville Plateau salamanders. The Service has 
reviewed ordinances administered by each of these municipalities to 
determine if they contain measures protective of salamanders above and 
beyond those already required through other regulatory mechanisms 
(Clean Water Act, T.A.C., etc.). Each of the cities has implemented 
their own ordinances that contain requirements for erosion control and 
the management of the volume of stormwater discharged from developments 
within their jurisdictions. However, as discussed above under Factor A, 
measurable degradation of stream habitat and loss of biotic integrity 
can occur at low levels of impervious cover within a watershed, and 
there are no impervious cover limit restrictions in Travis or 
Williamson Counties or for development within the municipalities of 
Cedar Park and Round Rock where the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
occurs.
Groundwater Conservation Districts
    The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District permits 
and regulates most wells on the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards 
Aquifer, subject to the limits of the State of Texas law. They have 
established two desired future conditions for the Freshwater Edwards 
Aquifer within the Northern Subdivision of Groundwater

[[Page 51318]]

Management Area 10: (1) An extreme drought desired future condition of 
6.5 cubic feet per second (cfs) (0.18 cubic meter per second (cms)) 
measured at Barton Springs, and (2) an ``all-conditions'' desired 
future condition of 49.7 cfs (1.41 cms) measured at Barton Springs. 
These desired future conditions are meant to assure an adequate supply 
of freshwater for well users and adequate flow for endangered species. 
There are no groundwater conservation districts in northern Travis or 
southern Williamson Counties, so groundwater pumping continues to be 
unregulated in these areas (TPWD 2011, p. 7).
Conclusion of Factor D
    Surface water quality data collected by TCEQ and COA indicates that 
water quality degradation is occurring within many of the surface 
watersheds occupied by the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders despite the existence of numerous State and local 
regulatory mechanisms to manage stormwater and protect water quality 
(Turner 2005a, pp. 8-17, O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 29, TCEQ 2010a, pp. 
546-624; TCEQ 2010b, pp. 34-68; TCEQ 2010c, pp. 77, 82-83; TCEQ 2012b, 
pp. 35-70; TCEQ 2012c, pp. 646-736; TCEQ 2012d, pp. 67, 73). No 
regulatory mechanisms are in place to manage groundwater withdrawals in 
northern Travis or southern Williamson Counties. Human population 
growth and urbanization in Travis and Williamson Counties are projected 
to continue into the future as well as the associated impacts to water 
quality and quantity (see Factor A discussion above). Therefore, we 
conclude that the existing regulatory mechanisms are not providing 
adequate protection for the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders or their habitats either now or in the future.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Their Continued Existence

Small Population Size and Stochastic Events
    The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders may be more 
susceptible to threats and impacts from stochastic events because of 
their small population sizes (Van Dyke 2008, p. 218). The risk of 
extinction for any species is known to be highly inversely correlated 
with population size (O'Grady et al. 2004, pp. 516, 518; Pimm et al. 
1988, pp. 774-775). In other words, the smaller the population, the 
greater the overall risk of extinction. Population size estimates that 
take into account detection probability have not been generated at most 
sites for these species, but mark-recapture studies at some of the 
highest quality sites for Jollyville Plateau salamanders estimated 
surface populations as low as 78 and as high as 1,024 (O'Donnell et al. 
2008, pp. 44-45).
    At small population levels, the effects of demographic 
stochasticity (the variability in population growth rates arising from 
random differences among individuals in survival and reproduction 
within a season) alone greatly increase the risk of local extinctions 
(Van Dyke 2008, p. 218). Although it remains a complex field of study, 
conservation genetics research has demonstrated that long-term 
inbreeding depression (a pattern of reduced reproduction and survival 
as a result of genetic relatedness) can occur within populations with 
effective sizes of 50 to 500 individuals and may also occur within 
larger populations as well (Frankham 1995, pp. 305-327; Latter et al. 
1995, pp. 287-297; Van Dyke 2008, pp. 155-156).
    Current evidence from integrated work on population dynamics shows 
that setting conservation thresholds at only a few hundred individuals 
does not properly account for the synergistic impacts of multiple 
threats facing a population (Traill et al. 2010, p. 32). Studies across 
taxonomic groups have found both the evolutionary and demographic 
constraints on populations require sizes of at least 5,000 adult 
individuals to ensure long-term persistence (Traill et al. 2010, p. 
30). Only one site for the Jollyville Plateau salamanders at Wheless 
Spring has an average population estimate of greater than 500 
individuals based on results of a mark-recapture study (O'Donnell et 
al. 2008, p. 46).
    Through a review of survey information available in our files and 
provided to us during the peer review and public comment period for the 
proposed rule, we noted the highest number of individuals counted 
during survey events that have occurred over the last 10 years. We used 
these survey counts as an index of salamander population health and 
relative abundance. We recognize these counts do not represent true 
population counts or estimates because they are reflective of only the 
number of salamanders observed in the surface habitat at a specific 
point in time. However, the data provide the best available information 
to consider relative population sizes of salamanders.
    Through this assessment, we determined that surveys at many sites 
have never yielded as many as 50 individuals. In fact, 33 of the 106 
(31 percent) Jollyville Plateau salamander surface sites have not 
yielded as many as 5 individuals at any one time in the last 10 years. 
Furthermore, surveys or salamander counts of only 8 of the 106 (8 
percent) Jollyville Plateau salamander surface sites have resulted in 
more than 50 individuals at a time over the last 10 years. We also 
found that many of the salamander population counts have been low or 
unknown.
    For the Austin blind salamander, the highest count observed at a 
single site over the last 10 years was 34 individuals; however, numbers 
this high are very rare for this species. Counts of three individuals 
or less have been reported most frequently since 1995. Because most of 
the sites occupied by the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders are not known to have many individuals, any of the threats 
described in this final rule or even stochastic events that would not 
otherwise be considered a threat could extirpate populations. As 
populations are extirpated, the overall risk of extinction of the 
species is increased.
    Small population sizes can also act synergistically with other 
traits (such as being a habitat specialist and having limited 
distribution, as is the case with the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders) to greatly increase risk of extinction (Davies et 
al. 2004, p. 270). Stochastic events from either environmental factors 
(random events such as severe weather) or demographic factors (random 
causes of births and deaths of individuals) may also heighten the 
effect of other threats to the salamander species because of their 
limited range and small population sizes (Melbourne and Hastings 2008, 
p. 100).
    In conclusion, we do not consider small population size to be a 
threat in and of itself to the Austin blind or Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders, but their small population sizes make them more vulnerable 
to extinction from other existing or potential threats, such as a major 
stochastic event. We consider the level of impacts from stochastic 
events to be moderate for the Jollyville Plateau salamander, because 
this species has more populations over a broader range. On the other 
hand, recolonization following a stochastic event is not likely for the 
Austin blind salamander due to its limited distribution and low 
numbers. Therefore, the impact from a stochastic event for the Austin 
blind salamander is a significant threat.
Ultraviolet Radiation
    Increased levels of ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation, due to 
depletion of the stratospheric ozone layers, may lead to declines in 
amphibian populations

[[Page 51319]]

(Blaustein and Kiesecker 2002, pp. 598-600). For example, research has 
demonstrated that UV-B radiation causes significant mortality and 
deformities in developing long-toed salamanders (Ambystoma 
macrodactylum) (Blaustein et al. 1997, p. 13,735). Exposure to UV-B 
radiation reduces growth in clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) (Hatch and 
Burton, 1998, p. 1,783) and lowers hatching success in Cascades frogs 
(Rana cascadae) and western toads (Bufo boreas) (Kiesecker and 
Blaustein 1995, pp. 11,050-11,051). In lab experiments with spotted 
salamanders, UV-B radiation diminished their swimming ability 
(Bommarito et al. 2010, p. 1151). Additionally, UV-B radiation may act 
synergistically (the total effect is greater than the sum of the 
individual effects) with other factors (for example, contaminants, pH, 
pathogens) to cause declines in amphibians (Alford and Richards 1999, 
p. 141; see ``Synergistic and Additive Interactions among Stressors'' 
below). Some researchers have indicated that future increases in UV-B 
radiation will have significant detrimental impacts on amphibians that 
are sensitive to this radiation (Blaustein and Belden 2003, p. 95).
    The effect of increased UV-B radiation on the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders is unknown. It is unlikely the few cave 
populations of Jollyville Plateau salamanders that are restricted 
entirely to the subsurface are exposed to UV-B radiation. In addition, 
exposure of the Austin blind salamander may be limited because they 
largely reside underground. Surface populations of these species may 
receive some protection from UV-B radiation through shading from trees 
or from hiding under rocks at some spring sites. Substrate alteration 
may put these species at greater risk of UV-B exposure and impacts. 
Because eggs are likely deposited underground (Bendik 2011b, COA, pers. 
comm.), UV-B radiation may have no impact on the hatching success of 
these species.
    In conclusion, the effect of increased UV-B radiation has the 
potential to cause deformities or developmental problems to 
individuals, but we do not consider this stressor to significantly 
contribute to the risk of extinction of the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders at this time. However, UV-B radiation could 
negatively affect any of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders' surface populations in combination with other threats 
(such as water quality or water quantity degradation) and contribute to 
significant declines in population sizes.
Deformities in Jollyville Plateau Salamanders
    Jollyville Plateau salamanders observed at the Stillhouse Hollow 
monitoring sites have shown high incidences of deformities, such as 
curved spines, missing eyes, missing limbs or digits, and eye injuries 
(O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 26). The Stillhouse Hollow location was also 
cited as having the highest observation of dead Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders (COA 2001, p. 88). Although water quality is relatively low 
in the Stillhouse Hollow drainage (O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 26, 37), 
no statistical correlations were found between the number of 
deformities and nitrate concentrations (O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 26). 
Environmental toxins are the suspected cause of salamander deformities 
(COA 2001, pp. 70-74; O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 25), but deformities in 
amphibians can also be the result of genetic mutations, parasitic 
infections, UV-B radiation, or the lack of an essential nutrient. More 
research is needed to elucidate the cause of these deformities. We 
consider deformities to be a low-level impact to the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander at this time because this stressor is an issue at only one 
site, is not affecting the entire population there, and does not appear 
to be an issue for the other salamander species.
Other Natural Factors
    The highly restricted ranges of the salamanders and entirely 
aquatic environment make them extremely vulnerable to threats such as 
decreases in water quality and quantity. This is especially true for 
the Austin blind salamander, which is found in only one locality 
comprising three hydrologically connected springs of Barton Springs. 
Due to its limited distribution, the Austin blind salamander is 
sensitive to stochastic incidences, such as storm events (which can 
dramatically affect dissolved oxygen levels), catastrophic contaminant 
spills, and leaks of harmful substances. One catastrophic spill event 
in Barton Springs could potentially cause the extinction of the Austin 
blind salamander in the wild.
    Although rare, catastrophic events pose a significant threat to 
small populations because they have the potential to eliminate all 
individuals in a small group (Van Dyke 2008, p. 218). In the proposed 
rule, we discussed that the presence of several locations of Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders close to each other provides some possibility for 
natural recolonization for populations of these species if any of these 
factors resulted in a local extirpation event (Fagan et al. 2002, p. 
3,255). Although it may be possible for Eurycea salamanders to travel 
through aquifer conduits from one surface population to another, or 
that two individuals from different populations could breed in 
subsurface habitat, there is no direct evidence that they currently 
migrate from one surface population to another on a regular basis. Just 
because there is detectable gene flow between two populations does not 
necessarily mean that there is current or routine dispersal between 
populations that could allow for recolonization of a site should the 
population be extirpated by a catastrophic event (Gillespie 2012, 
University of Texas, pers. comm.).
    In conclusion, restricted ranges could negatively affect any of the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders' populations in 
combination with other threats (such as water quality or water quantity 
degradation) and lead to the species being at a higher risk of 
extinction. We consider the level of impacts from stochastic events to 
be moderate for the Jollyville Plateau salamander, because even though 
this species has more populations over a broader range, the range is 
still restricted and the species' continued existence could be 
compromised by a common event. On the other hand, recolonization 
following a stochastic event is less likely for the Austin blind 
salamander due to its limited distribution and low numbers. Therefore, 
the impact from a stochastic event for the Austin blind salamander is a 
significant threat.
Synergistic and Additive Interactions Among Stressors
    The interactions among multiple stressors (contaminants, UV-B 
radiation, pathogens) may be contributing to amphibian population 
declines (Blaustein and Kiesecker 2002, p. 598). Multiple stressors may 
act additively or synergistically to have greater detrimental impacts 
on amphibians compared to a single stressor alone. Kiesecker and 
Blaustein (1995, p. 11,051) found a synergistic effect between UV-B 
radiation and a pathogen in Cascades frogs and western toads. 
Researchers demonstrated that reduced pH levels and increased levels of 
UV-B radiation independently had no effect on leopard frog (Rana 
pipiens) larvae; however, when combined, these two caused significant 
mortality (Long et al. 1995, p. 1,302). Additionally, researchers 
demonstrated that UV-B radiation increases the toxicity of PAHs, which 
can cause mortality and deformities on developing amphibians (Hatch and 
Burton 1998, pp. 1,780-

[[Page 51320]]

1,783). Beattie et al. (1992, p. 566) demonstrated that aluminum 
becomes toxic to amphibians at low pH levels. Also, disease outbreaks 
may occur only when there are contaminants or other stressors in the 
environment that reduce immunity (Alford and Richards 1999, p. 141). 
For example, Christin et al. (2003, pp. 1,129-1,132) demonstrated that 
mixtures of pesticides reduced the immunity to parasitic infections in 
leopard frogs.
    Currently, the effect of synergistic stressors on the Austin blind 
and Jollyville Plateau salamanders is not fully known. Furthermore, 
different species of amphibians differ in their reactions to stressors 
and combinations of stressors (Kiesecker and Blaustein 1995, p. 11,051; 
Relyea et al. 2009, pp. 367-368; Rohr et al. 2003, pp. 2,387-2,390). 
Studies that examine the effects of interactions among multiple 
stressors on the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders are 
lacking. However, based on the number of examples in other amphibians, 
the possibility of synergistic effects on these salamanders cannot be 
discounted.
Conclusion of Factor E
    The effect of increased UV-B radiation is an unstudied stressor to 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders that has the 
potential to cause deformities or development problems. The effect of 
this stressor is low at this time. Deformities have been documented in 
the Jollyville Plateau salamander, but at only one location (Stillhouse 
Hollow). We do not know what causes these deformities, and there is no 
evidence that the incidence rate is increasing or spreading. Therefore, 
the effect of UV-B radiation is low. Finally, small population sizes at 
most of the sites for the salamanders increases the risk of local 
extirpation events. We do not necessarily consider small population 
size to be a threat in and of itself to the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders, but their small population sizes make them more 
vulnerable to extirpation from other existing or potential threats, 
such as stochastic events. Thus, we consider the level of impacts from 
stochastic events to be moderate for the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
and high for the Austin blind salamanders due to its more limited 
distribution and low numbers.
Conservation Efforts To Reduce Other Natural or Manmade Factors 
Affecting Its Continued Existence
    We have no information on any conservation efforts currently under 
way to reduce the effects of UV-B radiation, deformities, small 
population sizes, or limited ranges on the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders.
Cumulative Impacts

Cumulative Effects From Factors A Through E

    Some of the threats discussed in this finding could work in concert 
with one another to cumulatively create situations that impact the 
Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. Some threats to the 
species may seem to be of low significance by themselves, but when 
considered with other threats that are occurring at each site, such as 
small population sizes, the risk of extirpation is increased. 
Furthermore, we have no direct evidence that salamanders currently 
migrate from one population to another on a regular basis, and many of 
the populations are situated in a way (that is, they are isolated from 
one another) where recolonization of extirpated sites is very unlikely. 
Cumulatively, as threats to the species increase over time in tandem 
with increasing urbanization within the surface watersheds of these 
species, more and more populations will be lost, which will increase 
the species' risk of extinction.
Overall Threats Summary
    The primary factor threatening the Austin blind and Jollyville 
Plateau salamanders is the present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range (Factor A). 
Degradation of habitat, in the form of reduced water quality and 
quantity and disturbance of spring sites (surface habitat), is the 
primary threat to the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. 
Reductions in water quality occur primarily as a result of 
urbanization, which increases the amount of impervious cover in the 
watershed and exposes the salamanders to more hazardous material 
sources. Impervious cover increases storm flow, erosion, and 
sedimentation. Impervious cover also changes natural flow regimes 
within watersheds and increases the transport of contaminants common in 
urban environments, such as oils, metals, and pesticides. Expanding 
urbanization results in an increase of contaminants, such as 
fertilizers and pesticides, within the watershed, which degrades water 
quality at salamander spring sites. Additionally, urbanization 
increases nutrient loads at spring sites, which can lead to decreases 
in dissolved oxygen levels. Construction activities are a threat to 
both water quality and quantity because they can increase sedimentation 
and exposure to contaminants, as well as dewater springs by 
intercepting aquifer conduits.
    Various other threats to habitat exist for the Austin blind and 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders as well. Drought, which may be 
compounded by the effects of global climate change, also degrades water 
quantity and reduces available habitat for the salamanders. Water 
quantity can also be reduced by groundwater pumping and decreases in 
baseflow due to increases in impervious cover. Flood events contribute 
to the salamanders' risks of extinction by degrading water quality 
through increased contaminants levels and sedimentation, which may 
damage or alter substrates, and by removing rocky substrates or washing 
salamanders out of suitable habitat. Impoundments are also a threat to 
the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. Feral hogs are a 
threat to Jollyville Plateau salamanders, because they can physically 
alter their surface habitat and increase nutrients. Additionally, 
catastrophic spills and leaks remain a threat for many salamander 
locations. All of these threats are projected to increase in the future 
as the human population and development increases within watersheds 
that provide habitat for these salamanders. Some of these threats are 
moderated, in part, by ongoing conservation efforts, such as HCPs, 
preserves, and other programs in place to protect land from the effects 
of urbanization and to gather water quality data that would be helpful 
in designing conservation strategies for the salamander species. 
Overall, we consider the combined threats of Factor A to be ongoing and 
with a high degree of impact to the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders and their habitats.
    Another factor affecting these salamander species is Factor D, the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms. Surface water quality 
data collected by TCEQ indicates that water quality degradation is 
occurring within many of the surface watersheds occupied by the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders despite the existence of 
numerous State and local regulatory mechanisms to manage stormwater and 
protect water quality. Human population growth and urbanization in 
Travis and Williamson Counties are projected to continue into the 
future as well as the associated impacts to water quality and quantity 
(see Factor A discussion above). Because existing regulations are not 
providing adequate protection for the salamanders or their habitats, we 
consider the existing regulatory mechanisms inadequate to protect the

[[Page 51321]]

Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders now and in the future.
    Under Factor E we identified several stressors that could 
negatively impact the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders, 
including the increased risk of local extirpation events due to small 
population sizes, UV-B radiation, and deformities. Although none of 
these stressors rose to the level of being considered a threat by 
itself, small population sizes and restricted ranges make the Austin 
blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders more vulnerable to extirpation 
from other existing or potential threats, such as stochastic events. 
Thus, we consider the level of impacts from stochastic events to be 
high for the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders due to 
their low numbers, and especially high for the Austin blind salamander 
due to its limited distributions.

Determination

Standard for Review

    Section 4 of the Act, and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR 
part 424, set forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal 
Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Under section 
4(b)(1)(a), the Secretary is to make threatened or endangered 
determinations required by subsection 4(a)(1) solely on the basis of 
the best scientific and commercial data available to her after 
conducting a review of the status of the species and after taking into 
account conservation efforts by States or foreign nations. The 
standards for determining whether a species is threatened or endangered 
are provided in section 3 of the Act. An endangered species is any 
species that is ``in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range.'' A threatened species is any species 
that is ``likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable 
future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.'' Per 
section 4(a)(1) of the Act, in reviewing the status of the species to 
determine if it meets the definitions of threatened or endangered, we 
determine whether any species is an endangered species or a threatened 
species because of any of the following five factors: (A) The present 
or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat 
or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, 
or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy 
of existing regulatory mechanisms; and (E) other natural or manmade 
factors affecting its continued existence.
    We evaluated whether the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders are in danger of extinction now (that is, an endangered 
species) or are likely to become in danger of extinction in the 
foreseeable future (that is, a threatened species). The foreseeable 
future refers to the extent to which the Secretary can reasonably rely 
on predictions about the future in making determinations about the 
future conservation status of the species. A key statutory difference 
between a threatened species and an endangered species is the timing of 
when a species may be in danger of extinction, either now (endangered 
species) or in the foreseeable future (threatened species).

Listing Status Determination for the Austin Blind Salamander

    Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial 
information, we conclude that the Austin blind salamander is in danger 
of extinction now throughout all of its range and, therefore, meets the 
definition of an endangered species. This finding, explained below, is 
based on our conclusions that this species has only one known 
population that occurs at three spring outlets in Barton Springs, the 
habitat of this population has experienced impacts from threats, and 
these threats are expected to increase in the future. We find the 
Austin blind salamander is at an elevated risk of extinction now, and 
no data indicate that the situation will improve without significant 
additional conservation intervention. We, therefore, find that the 
Austin blind salamander warrants an endangered species listing status 
determination.
    Present and future degradation of habitat (Factor A) is the primary 
threat to the Austin blind salamander. This threat has primarily 
occurred in the form of reduced water quality from introduced and 
concentrated contaminants (for example, PAHs, pesticides, nutrients, 
and trace metals), increased sedimentation, and altered stream flow 
regimes. These stressors are primarily the result of human population 
growth and subsequent urbanization within the watershed and recharge 
and contributing zones of the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards 
Aquifer. Urbanization is currently having impacts on Austin blind 
salamander habitat. For example, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey 
concluded that baseline water quality in the Barton Springs Segment of 
the Edwards Aquifer, in terms of nitrate, had shifted upward between 
2001 and 2010 and was at least partially the result of an increase in 
the land application of treated wastewater (Mahler et al. 2011, pp. 34-
35). Based on our analysis of impervious cover, the surface watershed 
and groundwater recharge and contributing zones of Barton Springs have 
levels of impervious cover that are likely causing habitat degradation. 
As a result, the best available information indicates that habitat 
degradation from urbanization is causing a decline in the Austin blind 
salamander population throughout the species' range now and will cause 
population declines in the future, putting this population at an 
elevated risk of extirpation.
    Further degradation of water quality within the Austin blind 
salamander's habitat is expected to continue into the future, primarily 
as a result of an increase in urbanization. Substantial human 
population growth is ongoing within this species' range, indicating 
that the urbanization and its effects on Austin blind salamander 
habitat will increase in the future. The Texas State Data Center (2012, 
pp. 496-497) has reported a population increase of 94 percent for 
Travis County, Texas, from the year 2010 to 2050. Data indicate that 
water quality degradation at Barton Springs continues to occur despite 
the existence of current regulatory mechanisms in place to protect 
water quality; therefore, these mechanisms are not adequate to protect 
this species and its habitat now, nor do we anticipate them to 
sufficiently protect the species in the future (Factor D).
    An additional threat to the Austin blind salamander is hazardous 
materials that could be spilled or leaked potentially resulting in the 
contamination of both surface and groundwater resources. For example, a 
number of point-sources of pollutants exist within the Austin blind 
salamander's range, including 7,600 wastewater mains and 9,470 known 
septic facilities in the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer 
as of 2010 (Herrington et al. 2010, pp. 5, 16). Because this species 
occurs in only one population in Barton Springs, a single but 
significant hazardous materials spill within stream drainages of the 
Austin blind salamander has the potential to cause this species to go 
extinct.
    In addition, construction activities resulting from urban 
development may negatively impact both water quality and quantity 
because they can increase sedimentation and dewater springs by 
intercepting aquifer conduits. It has been estimated that total 
suspended sediment loads have increased 270 percent over predevelopment 
loadings within the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer (COA 
1995, pp. 3-10). The risk of a hazardous material spill and effects 
from construction activities will increase as urbanization

[[Page 51322]]

within the range of the Austin blind salamander increases.
    The habitat of Austin blind salamanders is sensitive to direct 
physical habitat modification, particularly due to human vandalism of 
the springs and the Barton Springs impoundments. Eliza Spring and 
Sunken Garden Spring, two of the three spring outlets of the Austin 
blind salamander, experience vandalism, despite the presence of fencing 
and signage (Dries 2011, COA, pers. comm.). Also, the impoundments have 
changed the Barton Springs ecosystem from a stream-like system to a 
more lentic (still-water) environment, thereby reducing the water 
system's ability to flush sediments downstream and out of salamander 
habitat. In combination with the increased threat from urbanization, 
these threats are likely driving the Austin blind salamander to the 
brink of extinction now.
    Future climate change could also affect water quantity and spring 
flow for the Austin blind salamander. Climate change could compound the 
threat of decreased water quantity at salamander spring sites by 
decreasing precipitation, increasing evaporation, and increasing the 
likelihood of extreme drought events. The Edwards Aquifer is projected 
to experience additional stress from climate change that could lead to 
decreased recharge and low or ceased spring flows given increasing 
pumping demands (Lo[aacute]iciga et al. 2000, pp. 192-193). Evidence of 
climate change has been observed in Texas, such as the record-setting 
drought of 2011, with extreme droughts becoming much more probable than 
they were 40 to 50 years ago (Rupp et al. 2012, pp. 1053-1054). Drought 
lowers water quality in Barton Springs due to saline water 
encroachments in the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer 
(Slade et al. 1986, p. 62; Johns 2006, p. 8). Recent droughts have 
negatively impacted Austin blind salamander abundance (Dries 2012, pp. 
16-18), reducing the resiliency of the sole population. Therefore, 
climate change is an ongoing threat to this species and contributes to 
the likelihood of the Austin blind salamander becoming extinct now.
    Other natural or manmade factors (Factor E) affecting the Austin 
blind salamander population include UV-B radiation, small population 
sizes, stochastic events (such as floods or droughts), and synergistic 
and additive interactions among the stressors mentioned above. While 
these factors are not threats to the existence of the Austin blind 
salamander in and of themselves, in combination with the threats 
summarized above, these factors make the Austin blind salamander 
population less resilient and more vulnerable to extinction now.
    Because of the fact-specific nature of listing determinations, 
there is no single metric for determining if a species is ``in danger 
of extinction'' now. In the case of the Austin blind salamander, the 
best available information indicates that habitat degradation has 
occurred throughout the only known Austin blind salamander population. 
The threat of urbanization indicates that this Austin blind salamander 
population is currently at an elevated risk of extinction now and will 
continue to be at an elevated risk in the future. These impacts are 
expected to increase in severity and scope as urbanization within the 
range of the species increases. Also, the combined result of increased 
impacts to habitat quality and inadequate regulatory mechanisms leads 
us to the conclusion that Austin blind salamanders are in danger of 
extinction now. This Austin blind salamander population has become 
degraded from urbanization, low resiliency and is subsequently at an 
elevated risk from climate change impacts and catastrophic events (for 
example, drought, floods, hazardous material spills). Therefore, 
because the only known Austin blind salamander population is at an 
elevated risk of extinction, the Austin blind salamander is in danger 
of extinction throughout all of its range now, and appropriately meets 
the definition of an endangered species (that is, in danger of 
extinction now).
    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is threatened or endangered throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. The threats to the survival of this 
species occur throughout its range and are not restricted to any 
particular significant portion of its range. Accordingly, our 
assessments and determinations apply to this species throughout its 
entire range.
    In conclusion, as described above, the Austin blind salamander is 
subject to significant threats now, and these threats will continue to 
become more severe in the future. After a review of the best available 
scientific information as it relates to the status of the species and 
the five listing factors, we find the Austin blind salamander is 
currently on the brink of extinction. Therefore, on the basis of the 
best available scientific and commercial information, we list the 
Austin blind salamander as an endangered species in accordance with 
section 3(6) of the Act. We find that a threatened species status is 
not appropriate for the Austin blind salamander because the overall 
risk of extinction is high at this time. The one existing population is 
not sufficiently resilient or redundant to withstand present and future 
threats, putting this species in danger of extinction now.

 Listing Determination for the Jollyville Plateau Salamander

    In the proposed rule (77 FR 50768, August 22, 2012), the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander species was proposed as endangered, rather than 
threatened, because at that time, we determined the threats to be 
imminent, and their potential impacts to the species would be 
catastrophic given the very limited range of the species. For this 
final determination, we took into account data that was made available 
after the proposed rule published, information provided by commenters 
on the proposed rule, and further discussions within the Service to 
determine whether the Jollyville Plateau salamander should be 
classified as endangered or threatened. Based on our review of the best 
available scientific and commercial information, we conclude that the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander is likely to become in danger of 
extinction in the foreseeable future throughout all of its range and, 
therefore, meets the definition of a threatened species, rather than 
endangered. This finding, explained below, is based on our conclusions 
that many populations of the species have begun to experience impacts 
from threats to its habitat, and these threats are expected to increase 
in the future. As the threats increase, we expect Jollyville Plateau 
salamander populations to be extirpated, reducing the overall 
representation and redundancy across the species' range and increasing 
the species' risk of extinction. We find the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander will be at an elevated risk of extinction in the future, and 
no data indicate that the situation will improve without significant 
additional conservation intervention. We, therefore, find that the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander warrants a threatened species listing 
status determination.
    Present and future degradation of habitat (Factor A) is the primary 
threat to the Jollyville Plateau salamander. This threat has primarily 
occurred in the form of reduced water quality from introduced and 
concentrated contaminants (for example, PAHs, pesticides, nutrients, 
and trace metals), increased sedimentation, and altered stream flow 
regimes. These stressors are primarily the result of human population 
growth and subsequent urbanization within the watersheds and

[[Page 51323]]

recharge and contributing zones of the groundwater supporting spring 
and cave sites. Urbanization affects both surface and subsurface 
habitat and is currently having impacts on Jollyville Plateau 
salamander counts. For example, Bendik (2011a, pp. 26-27) demonstrated 
that declining trends in counts are correlated with high levels of 
impervious cover. Based on our analysis of impervious cover (which we 
use as a proxy for urbanization) throughout the range of the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander, 81 of the 93 surface watersheds occupied by 
Jollyville Plateau salamanders have levels of impervious cover that are 
likely causing habitat degradation. As a result, the best available 
information indicates that habitat degradation from urbanization is 
causing declines in Jollyville Plateau salamander populations 
throughout most of the species' range now or will cause population 
declines in the future, putting these populations at an elevated risk 
of extirpation.
    Further degradation of water quality within the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander's habitat is expected to continue into the future, primarily 
as a result of an increase in urbanization. Substantial human 
population growth is ongoing within this species' range, indicating 
that the urbanization and its effects on Jollyville Plateau salamander 
habitat will increase in the future. The Texas State Data Center (2012, 
pp. 496-497, 509) has reported a population increase of 94 percent and 
477 percent for Travis and Williamson Counties, Texas, respectively, 
from the year 2010 to 2050. Data indicate that water quality 
degradation in sites occupied by Jollyville Plateau salamanders 
continues to occur despite the existence of current regulatory 
mechanisms in place to protect water quality; therefore, these 
mechanisms are not adequate to protect this species and its habitat 
now, nor do we anticipate them to sufficiently protect the species in 
the future.
    Adding to the likelihood of the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
becoming endangered in the future is the risk from hazardous materials 
that could be spilled or leaked, potentially resulting in the 
contamination of both surface and groundwater resources. For example, a 
number of point-sources of pollutants exist within the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander's range, including leaking underground storage tanks 
and sewage spills from pipelines (COA 2001, pp. 16, 21, 74). A 
significant hazardous materials spill within stream drainages of the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander has the potential to threaten the long-
term survival and sustainability of multiple populations.
    In addition, construction activities resulting from urban 
development may negatively impact both water quality and quantity 
because they can increase sedimentation and dewater springs by 
intercepting aquifer conduits. Increased sedimentation from 
construction activities has been linked to declines in Jollyville 
Plateau salamander counts at multiple sites (Turner 2003, p. 24; 
O'Donnell et al. 2006, p. 34). The risk of a hazardous material spill 
and effects from construction activities will increase as urbanization 
within the range of the Jollyville Plateau salamander increases.
    The habitat of Jollyville Plateau salamanders is sensitive to 
direct physical habitat modification, such as those resulting from 
human recreational activities, impoundments, feral hogs, and livestock. 
Destruction of Jollyville Plateau salamander habitat has been 
attributed to vandalism (COA 2001, p. 21), human recreational use (COA 
2001, p. 21), impoundments (O'Donnell et al. 2008, p. 1; Bendik 2011b, 
pers. comm.), and feral hog activity (O'Donnell et al. 2006, pp. 34, 
46). Because these threats are impacting a limited number of sites, 
they are not causing the Jollyville Plateau salamander to be on the 
brink of extinction now. However, in combination with the increased 
threat from urbanization, these threats are likely to drive the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander to the brink of extinction in the 
foreseeable future.
    Future climate change could also affect water quantity and spring 
flow for the Jollyville Plateau salamander. Climate change could 
compound the threat of decreased water quantity at salamander spring 
sites by decreasing precipitation, increasing evaporation, and 
increasing the likelihood of extreme drought events. The Edwards 
Aquifer is predicted to experience additional stress from climate 
change that could lead to decreased recharge and low or ceased spring 
flows given increasing pumping demands (Lo[aacute]iciga et al. 2000, 
pp. 192-193). Climate change could cause spring sites with small 
amounts of discharge to go dry and no longer support salamanders, 
reducing the overall redundancy and representation for the species. 
Evidence of climate change has been observed in Texas, such as the 
record-setting drought of 2011, with extreme droughts becoming much 
more probable than they were 40 to 50 years ago (Rupp et al. 2012, p. 
1,053-1,054). Therefore, climate change is an ongoing threat to this 
species and will add to the likelihood of the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander becoming endangered within the foreseeable future.
    Other natural or manmade factors (Factor E) affecting all 
Jollyville Plateau salamander populations include UV-B radiation, small 
population sizes, stochastic events (such as floods or droughts), and 
synergistic and additive interactions among the stressors mentioned 
above. While these factors are not threats to the existence of the 
Jollyville Plateau salamander in and of themselves in combination with 
the threats summarized above, these factors make Jollyville Plateau 
salamander populations less resilient and more vulnerable to population 
extirpations in the foreseeable future.
    Because of the fact-specific nature of listing determinations, 
there is no single metric for determining if a species is ``in danger 
of extinction'' now. In the case of the Jollyville Plateau salamander, 
the best available information indicates that habitat degradation has 
resulted in measureable impacts on salamander counts. But, given that 
there are 106 surface and 16 cave populations, it is unlikely that any 
of the current threats are severe enough to impact all of the sites and 
result in overall species extirpation in the near future. The 
Jollyville Plateau salamander's risk of extinction now is not high (it 
is not in danger of extinction now). However, the threat of 
urbanization will cause the Jollyville Plateau salamander to be at an 
elevated risk of extirpation in the future. Also, the combined result 
of increased impacts to habitat quality and inadequate regulatory 
mechanisms leads us to the conclusion that Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders will likely be in danger of extinction within the 
foreseeable future. As Jollyville Plateau salamander populations become 
more degraded, isolated, or extirpated from urbanization, the species 
will lose resiliency and be at an elevated risk from climate change 
impacts and catastrophic events, such as drought, floods, and hazardous 
material spills. These events will affect all known extant populations, 
putting the Jollyville Plateau salamander at a high risk of extinction. 
Therefore, because the resiliency of populations is expected to 
decrease in the foreseeable future, the Jollyville Plateau salamander 
will be danger of extinction throughout all of its range in the 
foreseeable future, and appropriately meets the definition of a 
threatened species (that is, in danger of extinction in the foreseeable 
future).
    After a review of the best available scientific information as it 
relates to the status of the species and the five listing factors, we 
find the Jollyville Plateau salamander is not currently in danger of 
extinction, but will be in danger of extinction in the future 
throughout all of

[[Page 51324]]

its range. Therefore, on the basis of the best available scientific and 
commercial information, we are listing the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander as a threatened species, in accordance with section 3(6) of 
the Act. We find that an endangered species status is not appropriate 
for the Jollyville Plateau salamander because the species is not in 
danger of extinction at this time. While some threats to the Jollyville 
Plateau salamander are occurring now, the impacts from these threats 
are not yet at a level that puts this species in danger of extinction 
now. Habitat degradation and associated salamander count declines have 
been observed at urbanized sites. Furthermore, some Jollyville Plateau 
salamander sites are located within preserves and receive some 
protections from threats occurring to the species now. While the 
populations within preserves are not free from the impacts of 
urbanization, they are at a lower risk of extirpation because of the 
protections in place. Even so, with future urbanization outside of the 
preserves and the added effects of climate change, we expect habitat 
degradation to continue into the foreseeable future to the point where 
the species has an increased risk of extinction.
    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is threatened or endangered throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. The threats to the survival of this 
species occur throughout its range and are not restricted to any 
particular significant portion of its range. Accordingly, our 
assessments and determinations apply to this species throughout its 
entire range.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened species under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and 
conservation by Federal, State, tribal, and local agencies, private 
organizations, and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the 
States and requires that recovery actions be carried out for all listed 
species. The protection required by Federal agencies and the 
prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, below.
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The 
ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these 
listed species, so that they no longer need the protective measures of 
the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act requires the Service to develop and 
implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and 
threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the 
identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the 
decline in the species' status by addressing the threats to its 
survival and recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed 
species to a point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and 
functioning components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning includes the development of a recovery outline 
shortly after a species is listed and preparation of a draft and final 
recovery plan. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation 
of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to 
develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address 
continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive 
information becomes available. The recovery plan identifies site-
specific management actions that set a trigger for review of the five 
factors that control whether a species remains endangered or may be 
downlisted or delisted, and methods for monitoring recovery progress. 
Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate 
their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of 
implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (comprising species 
experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and 
stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. When 
completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final 
recovery plan will be available on our Web site (http://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from our Austin Ecological Services Field Office (see 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the 
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal 
agencies, States, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, 
and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat 
restoration (for example, restoration of native vegetation), research, 
captive propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The 
recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on 
Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on non-
Federal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires 
cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, tribal, and other 
lands.
    Once these species are listed, funding for recovery actions will be 
available from a variety of sources, including Federal budgets, State 
programs, and cost-share grants for non-Federal landowners, the 
academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, 
pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the State of Texas will be eligible 
for Federal funds to implement management actions that promote the 
protection or recovery of the Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau 
salamanders. Information on our grant programs that are available to 
aid species recovery can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as 
endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical habitat, if 
any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency 
cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR Part 402. 
Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to confer with the 
Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of a species proposed for listing or result in destruction or 
adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is 
listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal 
agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out 
are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or 
destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action 
may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible 
Federal agency must enter into formal consultation with the Service.
    Federal agency actions within the species habitat that may require 
conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding 
paragraph include management, construction, and any other activities 
with the possibility of altering aquatic habitats, groundwater flow 
paths, and natural flow regimes within the ranges of the Austin blind 
and Jollyville Plateau salamanders. Such consultations could be 
triggered through the issuance of section 404 Clean Water Act permits 
by the Army Corps of Engineers or other actions by the Service, U.S. 
Geological Survey, and Bureau of Reclamation; construction and 
maintenance of roads or highways by the Federal Highway Administration; 
landscape-altering activities on Federal lands administered by the 
Department of Defense; and construction and management of gas pipelines 
and power line rights-of-way by the Federal Energy Regulatory 
Commission.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply

[[Page 51325]]

to all endangered wildlife. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(2) of the 
Act, codified at 50 CFR 17.21 for endangered wildlife, in part, make it 
illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States 
to take (includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these), import, export, ship 
in interstate commerce in the course of commercial activity, or sell or 
offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. 
Under the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42-43; 16 U.S.C. 3371-3378), it is also 
illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such 
wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to 
agents of the Service and State conservation agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving endangered and threatened wildlife species under certain 
circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 
17.22 for endangered wildlife, and at 50 CFR 17.32 for threatened 
wildlife. With regard to endangered wildlife, a permit must be issued 
for the following purposes: for scientific purposes, to enhance the 
propagation or survival of the species, and for incidental take in 
connection with otherwise lawful activities.

Required Determinations

Regulatory Planning and Review (Executive Orders 12866 and 13563)

    Executive Order 12866 provides that the Office of Information and 
Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will 
review all significant rules. The Office of Information and Regulatory 
Affairs has determined that this rule is not significant.
    Executive Order 13563 reaffirms the principles of E.O. 12866 while 
calling for improvements in the nation's regulatory system to promote 
predictability, to reduce uncertainty, and to use the best, most 
innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. 
The executive order directs agencies to consider regulatory approaches 
that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for 
the public where these approaches are relevant, feasible, and 
consistent with regulatory objectives. E.O. 13563 emphasizes further 
that regulations must be based on the best available science and that 
the rulemaking process must allow for public participation and an open 
exchange of ideas. We have developed this rule in a manner consistent 
with these requirements.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.)

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information that 
require approval by OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act. This rule 
will not impose recordkeeping or reporting requirements on State or 
local governments, individuals, businesses, or organizations. An agency 
may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, 
a collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB 
control number.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be 
prepared in connection with listing a species as an endangered or 
threatened species under the Act. We published a notice outlining our 
reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 
1983 (48 FR 49244).

Data Quality Act

    In developing this rule, we did not conduct or use a study, 
experiment, or survey requiring peer review under the Data Quality Act 
(Pub. L. 106-554).

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this rule is available 
on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov or upon request from the 
Field Supervisor, Austin Ecological Services Field Office (see 
ADDRESSES).

Author(s)

    The primary author of this document is staff from the Austin 
Ecological Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES) with support from the 
Arlington, Texas, Ecological Services Field Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 
of the Code of Federal Regulations, as follows:

PART 17--[AMENDED]

0
1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; 4201-4245; unless 
otherwise noted.


0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by adding entries for ``Salamander, Austin 
blind'' and ``Salamander, Jollyville Plateau'' in alphabetical order 
under AMPHIBIANS to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to 
read as follows:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
            Amphibians
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Salamander, Austin blind.........  Eurycea               U.S.A..............  Entire.............  E                       817     17.95(d)           NA
                                    waterlooensis.       (TX)...............
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Salamander, Jollyville Plateau...  Eurycea tonkawae....  U.S.A..............  Entire.............  T                       817     17.95(d)           NA
                                                         (TX)...............
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


[[Page 51326]]

* * * * *

    Dated: August 5, 2013.
 Dan Ashe,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-19715 Filed 8-19-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P