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Salamander protection draws concern among crowd

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TWC News: Salamander protection draws concern among crowd
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A move to protect a vital water supply is colliding with the rights of property owners.

The Edwards Aquifer is the primary water source for about two million Central Texans. It also feeds a unique habitat which is home to four rare species of salamander. For years, Central Texas landowners and developers have been fighting against federal protection of the amphibians, but now the federal government is trying to stepping in.

About 6,000 acres across Bell, Williamson and Travis Counties are considered 'critical habitat,' a designation that prevents federally-funded development. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving ahead to protect the salamanders under the Endangered Species Act.

"These species have adapted to that clean water associated with the Edwards Aquifer, and we're looking at the possible threats," U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Adam Zerrenner said.

Once the salamanders are officially listed as endangered, restrictions will also fall on private property owners, and that has people worried.

"It (the land) won't be sellable if it's occupied by endangered species because no one will ever be able to use it," one resident said. "We're just here to get information tonight. We want to find out if it includes our property or what."

But environmental officials say there's more at stake than property rights.

"It is in large part about water quality, about water quantity," Zerrenner said.

While the endangered species listing process isn't over, residents say a balance between private property rights and the rights of endangered species still needs to be found.

The Central Texas salamanders could be under federal protection about a year from now. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a second public meeting at 6:30 p.m.Thursday at the Thompson Conference Center near the LBJ Library on the University of Texas campus.

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