Tuesday, November 21, 2000 by

New species of salamander

Discovered at Barton Springs

Austin Blind Salamander

A new species of blind salamander has been discovered at Barton Springs, according to David Hillis, director of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. Hillis said the common name for the new species would probably be the Austin Blind Salamander. A member of the city’s Watershed Protection Department found the new species while she was working on the captive-breeding program for the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. Hillis did DNA testing in his laboratory, confirming that the salamander was unlike any other known species.

The new species “lives underground, has an elongated snout, is light-colored, almost lavender in the light,” Hillis said. They were probably first seen about three years ago, but DNA testing was not done until this year.

The Barton Springs Salamander, which lives near the spring outlet, is on the federal endangered species list. Hillis said the new species lives deep within the aquifer. Only about 15 have been observed, he said, and they were all juveniles. The light-weight youngsters are “blown up from underground,” where scientists say the rest of the species live. Hillis said development, a major cause of siltation and lowered water quality in the springs, is a threat to both the Barton Springs Salamander and the Austin Blind Salamander.

“Increased siltation at Barton Springs has been causing a problem and if siltation is filling up the inner areas of the aquifer it will be a problem for both species,” Hillis said. The biologist said siltation reported in local wells is one gauge of the aquifer’s condition.

Some of the things that affect the Barton Springs salamander, such as activities at the pool, will not have the same impact on the newly discovered species, since it spends most of its time underground, he said.

New species of vertebrates are fairly rare, Hillis said, especially in the United States. But since 1990, four new salamander species have been discovered in Texas—all of them in central Texas. In addition to the Barton Springs Salamander, central Texas is the home of the Salado Salamander, the Jollyville Plateau Salamander and the Georgetown Salamander.

Two species that have been recognized for many years, the Texas Blind Salamander and the San Marcos Salamander, live in Hays County. The former is listed as endangered. The latter is listed as threatened. “The other three newly-described species are likely to be considered candidates for the endangered species list,” Hillis said.

Matthew Lechner, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said, “We will probably look at (the newly discovered species) to see if it needs to be listed.” He said he did not believe the new species would have a great deal of regulatory impact.

Hillis said announcement of the new species would come out early next year in the journal Herpetologica.

Urban Transportation Commission

Says CAMPO should re-draw plan

Road plan for 2025 is de facto land use plan

The Urban Transportation Commission recommended last night that the CAMPO (Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) 2025 Transportation Plan be rewritten with land use in mind.

Dick Kallerman of the Sierra Club pleaded the case for land use, insisting that the long-range road plan would be the critical predictor of growth patterns in the region over the next 25 years. Growth follows roads, Kallerman said. And that growth was likely to occur by default, not by design.

“This is our long-range master plan for our region. It decides where people are going to live, how they're going to get around, what kind of strip malls they’re going to have,” Kallerman told the commission. “The roads have determined how the region has gone.”

The idea that roads are de facto planning tools for the region is in line with several recent discussions at the UTC. Kallerman said that it is not too late to encourage the regional transportation group to consider a land use component, noting that the transportation plan may have to be rewritten without light rail.

“People—not everyone, but some people—refuse to acknowledge that when you implement a transportation plan, it's a de facto land-use plan,” said Commissioner Patrick Goetz, pointing to Portland as one city that has effectively incorporated long-term land use into its transportation plans.

Commissioners favored land use as a component for planning roads, but some questioned whether regional land-use guidelines could be enforced. The State of Texas gives cities the authority to implement land use. Counties, on the other hand, have no authority to make decisions on long-term land-use issues. Under these circumstances, the quasi-governmental CAMPO can't force Hays County and the City of Austin to negotiate if the two governments have competing visions for the same shared roadway, Commissioner Michelle Brinkman told her fellow commissioners.

That concern prevented Brinkman from voting for the motion. The rest of the commissioners were firmly in favor of the proposal. In other business, the UTC voted to support the Environmental Board' s recommendations on the CAMPO 2025 plan.

Those recommendations include: • A request for additional environmental study of certain roadway segments planned for the Drinking Water Protection Zone, including portions of US 290 West, State Highway 45, State Highway 71 West, Mopac, Bee Caves Road and Braker Lane. The board asked that these roadways not be expanded until their impact on water quality has been determined.

• Not upgrading the classifications of a number of road segments until the City Council acts on recommendations from the Corridor Planning Project. Those segments include North Lamar between West Anderson Lane and 51st Street; South Lamar between Town Lake and Oltorf; South Lamar between Oltorf and Ben White; South Congress between Ben White and Stassney; and Airport Boulevard between Manor Road and Springdale Road. Members of the Environmental Board pointed out that City and regional planning efforts appear to be in conflict over these street segments.

• That the City of Austin should challenge the population growth assumptions expressed in the CAMPO 2025 plan. Members of the Board agreed that projected population figures appeared to be too low within city limits and too high for neighboring communities. These discrepancies, suggested the Environmental Board, would lead to mistakes in prioritizing projects, promoting further sprawl and undermining focus on the Central Business District.

Commissioner Scheleen Johnson abstained from a vote on the population provision because her company completed the population project. Johnson said the population figures were based on a “worst-case” scenario.

Commissioner Tommy Eden suggested adding road segments to the “current designation only” list, meaning those roads would not be expanded in the future. He also wanted to shift some of the road designations from one category to another but was stopped by fellow commissioners. Commissioners then discussed a rather complicated system in which certain segments would be designated with a “C,” or corridor, until they were pulled by the city for corridor designation. Some, like Chair Jay Wyatt, saw little use in complicating an already complicated long-range plan.

Fred Blood of the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department pointed out that such a designation might encourage the city to set aside right-of-way for future development. Goetz, on the other hand, argued that the UTC did not have the political clout to carry a wide range of recommendations to the City Council, including some on Eden's list that would decrease the number of roadway lanes.

“We're not going to be able to convince Council anyway. It's not going to get through and it will dilute the impact of what's going to be more important,” Goetz said. “If we propose something like these, we're going to have to be more clever about it.”

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

The friendship was warm, but . . . Members of the Save Barton Creek Association shivered last night at their 21st annual meeting, held outside Barton Springs Pool. SBCA gave an award to Sally King, a volunteer from Motorola, who was instrumental in development of the Splash! Exhibit at the springs. Also, Green Mountain Energy was lauded for contributions to SBCA which have enabled the organization to fund an intern for the city’s Earth Camp project. Earth Camp provides hand-on environmental education at the springs for about 400 fifth graders each year.The city’s Parks and Recreation Department also received an award in recognition of outstanding performance. The department was a finalist in the national Gold Medal Award for parks departments . . . Stratus conversations . . . The Environmental Board subcommittee on the proposed settlement agreement will meet at 11:30 a.m. today in Room 240 of One Texas Center. The Planning Commission subcommittee will meet at noon in Room 500 of the same building. The Planning Commission is not scheduled to meet tonight.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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