In response to a notice of intent to sue filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Save Our Springs Alliance in May, the Texas Department of Transportation changed course on a major highway project in Austin, withdrawing its finding that the highway would have no impact on three federally protected species (two salamanders and a bird). The state’s transportation agency said in a letter that it has initiated consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the three species.

The construction of the MoPac Intersections Project across the environmentally sensitive Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, in southwest Austin, is likely to harm federally protected Barton Springs salamanders, Austin blind salamanders and golden-cheeked warblers. The Texas Department of Transportation initially conducted an inadequate, cursory environmental review of the project and did not consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure it would not jeopardize the survival of the endangered species, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Department has now reversed course and initiated consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service for these species.

“I’m glad the Texas Department of Transportation is willing to admit its error and is now taking the threats to these endangered salamanders and birds seriously,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center whose work is dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles.
“Unchecked sprawl and transportation projects have already pushed these unique little guys toward extinction. It’s crucial to ensure that any new highway projects are not going to accelerate the threats that are quickly wiping them out.”

Central Texas’ Edwards Aquifer region provides habitat for more than 50 species of animals and plants living nowhere else in the world. Since the Edwards Aquifer also provides much of San Antonio’s water supply, and about 50,000 people rely on Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer for their drinking water, the cleanliness of the aquifers is a critical issue for people as well as wildlife.

“I am happy to see Texas transportation officials taking a positive step in the right direction,” said Kelly Davis, an attorney with Save Our Springs Alliance.
“I hope that they will also begin to take seriously the environmentally damaging impacts of the many other highway projects planned in the sensitive Barton Springs Recharge Zone and work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that they will not impact endangered species.”