AUSTIN (KXAN) — Salamanders living in the Pedernales River are on track to become a federally-recognized endangered species.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it initiated a status review process for the species. This decision comes after a 2021 petition by Austin’s Save Our Springs Alliance demanded the salamanders be added to their Endangered Species List.

In 2019, University of Texas scientists discovered the rare amphibian across springs in Travis, Hays and Blanco Counties.

They determined the cause for their low numbers was likely due to frequent drought in the region.

According UT biology professor, David Hillis, the salamanders mostly inhabit dark and deeper areas of the aquifer, making their presence an indication of good water quality.

“This is an ecosystem that’s extremely important to all the living organisms in Central Texas, including humans, and the salamanders are a good indicator of the quality of that system,” Hillis said.

The petition was filed as a direct response to the proposal of the 1400-acre Mirasol Spring development along the Pedernales River.

If added to the list, the salamanders would be protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This would make it so that any new federally funded development project in the area would require a permit to proceed.

However, according to Hillis, many of the spring sites are already part of private or protected land.

“Some of the things that an average person could do to help protect this and other of our endangered salamanders include reducing water usage,” Hillis said. “And of course, being careful about how we dispose of material, especially along areas that could drain into caves or underground areas of the aquifer.”

For more information about endangered animal species in Texas, residents can use this tool to search them by county.