The Georgetown Salamander, a local amphibian only found in this area, is currently in the process of being listed as an endangered species. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) is now in the public hearing phase of this process and facing opposition from local residents and developers.
Dr. Joshua Long, an assistant professor of environmental studies at the university, has attended some of the public proceedings that address this conflict.
“There is a significant degree of legal protection afforded to species and their habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” Long said. “Once a candidate species is listed as endangered, the FWS undergoes a process of determining which activities may jeopardize the survival of the species.”
Local projects and construction may conflict with the policies of the ESA.
“This might mean that certain actions associated with development projects could cause harm to the species.This concerns many officials in Williamson County, because the county is one of the fastest growing in the state, and there may be certain restrictions that would ostensibly delay development projects seen as major priorities for the county,” Long said.
The potential endangered listing of the salamander may not necessarily hinder locals, because there are ways the ESA can assist them.
“It is extremely important to note that, as the ESA has evolved over the years, several programs have emerged that afford protection to landowners and developers. In some cases, this can include economic incentives to encourage conservation,” Long said.
If the FWS lists the salamander as endangered, there may be more environmental regulations that could be beneficial to the area. Local residents and officials, however, have expressed concern about the increased governmental regulation under the ESA.
“It’s true that the listing of the salamander and any designation of critical habitat might mean more environmental regulations and bureaucracy, and that’s something that concerns Williamson County residents,” Long said. “But some of those same restrictions and regulations that slow the development process could potentially facilitate a ‘greener’ and more sustainable style of development in Williamson County.”