New species in Brazos River basin designated threatened under the Endangered Species Act

New species in Brazos River basin designated threatened under the Endangered Species Act

A wildflower found in the Brazos River basin has been newly labeled as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Courtesy of Chris Best - USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April 2023 assigned the threatened status to the bracted twistflower.

In addition to assigning threatened status to the plan, the USFWS has designated critical habitat totaling approximately 1,596 acres in Uvalde, Medina, Bexar, and Travis counties, said Tiffany Malzahn, Brazos River Authority environmental and compliance manager. Besides the counties with designated critical habitat, the plant is known to occur in the Brazos River Basin in Bell, Comanche, and Williamson counties, Malzahn said.

The Brazos River Authority’s Environmental Services Department regularly monitors the status of different fish and wildlife species as a way of tracking the health of the Brazos River basin ecosystem. There are different levels of protection that a species in danger may be placed under on a state and federal level. The state of Texas provides two levels of protection: threatened and endangered species listing. On the federal level, species can also be designated as threatened or endangered.

Threatened species are plants or animals that are likely to become endangered in the near future.

When the results of monitoring begin to show changes, state and federal resource agencies, along with local stakeholders, work together to identify the cause and make improvements that can aid the continued health and quality of the basin’s water supply.

“We are listing bracted twistflower as a threatened species because many of its populations have been lost to development, browsing by white-tailed deer and introduced ungulates, juniper encroachment, and other causes,” said Chris Best, state botanist for the USFWS in Texas, in a press release. “Nevertheless, the cities of Austin and San Antonio are actively monitoring populations on protected lands and have demonstrated successful management actions. This is a species that could be recovered within a few decades if its remaining habitats are managed appropriately.”

Courtesy of Bill and Dolphia Bransford, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The bracted twistflower is a rare annual wildflower native to the southeastern edge of the Edwards Plateau in Central Texas. The plant blooms in spring and bears showy, lavender-purple flowers that provide nectar and pollen for native bee species. Bracted twistflower persists in habitats as seeds that may remain dormant in the soil for years, according to the USFWS. The plant may occupy a site but remain undetectable until favorable weather coaxes the seeds to germinate.

Malzahn said this listing should not impact existing BRA projects and properties. However, it may impact future BRA projects in these counties, such as survey requirements and implementation of avoidance strategies or mitigation strategies during the planning and design phase of future projects, she said.

There are four other threatened species known to occur in parts of the Brazos basin. Those include the Brazos Water Snake, the Salado Creek Salamander, the Jollyville Plateau Salamander and the Alligator Snapping Turtle.