Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), any type of bird, insect, fish, reptile, mammal, crustacean, flower, grass or tree that is struggling to survive may be listed as either endangered or threatened. A species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A species is considered threatened if it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
There are various reasons why a species might become threatened, including habitat destruction, overhunting, pollution, climate change, and other environmental factors.
Once a species is listed as threatened under the ESA, it is protected from certain activities that may harm or kill individuals of that species or destroy its habitat. Federal agencies must also consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that their actions will not jeopardize the species continued existence.
The four known threatened species in the Brazos River basin are:
- Brazos Water Snake
- Salado Creek Salamander
- Jollyville Plateau Salamander
- Alligator Snapping Turtle
- Bracted Twistflower
Brazos Water Snake
The Brazos water snake is a friendly, non-venomous resident of Texas rivers. The only place in the world this fish-eating snake is found is along the upper portions of the Brazos River. It resides in water that is fast-flowing, rocky and free of dense vegetation.
This snake takes cover under rocks in the water or vegetation along the shore. Juveniles use medium to large, flat rocks on unshaded shores for hiding and rocky shallows for feeding, while adults inhabit rocky riffles and a wider range of habitats in pools and lakes.
The Brazos Water Snake gives birth to as many as 23 live young between September and October.
Brazos Water Snake image courtesy of Dustin McBride
The Brazos Water Snake is a mix of brown and gray or a green and brown combination. They can be identified by the four rows of dark dorsal spots that run the length of its body, giving it a checkerboard appearance. The snake has a pink or orange-colored belly, and its neck is often a yellow or cream color.
They can fall prey to owls, hawks, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. In the more populated areas of the river, the Brazos water snake could also be preyed upon by domestic or feral cats.
Since this species is located only in the upper Brazos River basin, the BRA ' 'is working with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to study the decline of the Brazos water snake.
Salado Creek Salamander
The Salado Salamander is considered threatened due to its limited size or reach and the decline of its habitat. Threats to this species include agriculture, pollution, and changes in spring flow due to drought.
It lives entirely in water, under rocks, and in gravel and vegetation. This species only occupies spring outflows, which offer clear water, stable temperatures, and water chemistry.
The Salado Salamander is known in only two springs, Big Boiling Springs and Robertson Springs, near Salado and is one of many spring-associated salamanders found in the Edwards Aquifer system.
Jollyville Plateau Salamander
The Jollyville Plateau Salamander is found only in springs within Brushy Creek, Bull Creek, Cypress Creek, Long Hollow Creek, and Walnut Creek in Travis and Williamson counties.
The Jollyville Plateau Salamander enjoys the same living conditions as the Salado Creek Salamander.
Researchers at Texas State University examined stress hormones in this species and found that stress was greater in urban areas than in rural ones.
Threats to this species include urbanization, pollution, and changes in spring flow due to natural causes or pollution.
Alligator Snapping Turtle
While not currently documented in the Brazos River basin, the Alligator snapping ' 'turtle's range is immediately adjacent to the basin. Therefore, it is likely there are some of these animals in the Brazos River basin.
Alligator Snapping Turtle Map
Alligator snapping turtles live in rivers, lakes, and wetland habitats. These predominately aquatic species primarily spend their time submerged, needing to come to the surface for air about every hour. Males 'don't leave the water, while egg-laying females only come on land to nest and lay eggs.
The Alligator snapping ' 'turtle's population is in jeopardy partially due to commercial overharvesting for their meat and recreational bycatch from trotlines and other unattended harvest methods. Nest predation is a major source of mortality in many turtle populations. A fully grown alligator snapping ' 'turtle's only main predator is people.
If an alligator snapping turtle is caught, it should be returned to its habitat, as close as possible to the spot where it was caught.
To see unusual images of the Alligator snapping turtle, visit Texas Turtles.
Bracted Twistflower courtesy Bill and Dolphia Bransford of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The bracted twistflower is the newest species to be categorized as threatened. On April 11, 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published notice that it had assigned threatened status under ESA to the bracted twistflower. The action came 48 years after it was first discovered to be in diminished supply.
The bracted twistflower is an annual Texas wildflower that blooms in spring and has lavender-purple flowers that provide nectar and pollen for native Texas bee species.
Now that it is protected, a recovery plan will be developed to reintroduce the plant and prescribe conservation actions. It will also make removing, cutting, digging up, or harming the plant illegal. Very few busy Texans in the world today pause to think about these plants … but they still play an absolutely essential role in our world," said Michael J. Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The once-thriving wildflower blooms in the spring under tree canopies along the southeastern edge of the Edwards Plateau in central Texas. The plant is known to occur in the Brazos River Basin in Bell, Comanche, and Williamson Counties.
The biggest threats to this species' habitat are urban and residential land development and being eaten by unnaturally high numbers of white-tailed deer.
Go here to see the location of the bracted twistflower.
Why do we care?
There are many reasons why it's important to care about threatened and endangered species:
- Biodiversity: Threatened and endangered species are a critical component of biodiversity, and their loss can negatively impact the overall health and stability of ecosystems.
- Ecosystem services: Many species play essential roles in maintaining the balance of ecosystems, such as pollination, seed dispersal, and pest control.
- Cultural value: Many species have significant cultural and spiritual value to local communities and indigenous peoples.
- Scientific value: Endangered species can provide important information for scientific research and can help us understand the processes of evolution and adaptation.
- Economic value: Some species have direct economic value, such as through ecotourism, and others provide indirect benefits, such as clean air and water.
- Ethical value: It is a moral obligation to conserve and protect the Earth's biodiversity, as we have inherited it from previous generations and are responsible for passing it on to future generations.
Monitoring a Threatened Species
What are the next steps once a species has been identified as threatened? This is where environmentalists play an important role in species conservation by advocating for the protection and preservation of threatened and endangered species.
This may involve a range of activities, including:
1. Raising awareness about the importance of species conservation and the threats facing certain species.
2. Researching to better understand the biology and ecology of species.
3. Working with government agencies and other organizations to implement policies and regulations to protect the species and their habitats.
4. Monitoring and assessing populations of threatened and endangered species to track their status and ensure they receive adequate protection.
5. Supporting the development and implementation of conservation plans and programs.
6. Advocating for protecting and restoring critical habitats, such as wetlands, forests, and grasslands.
Overall, the goal of an environmentalist in species conservation is to ensure that species are protected and conserved for future generations to enjoy.
The Brazos River Authority's Environmental Services Department regularly monitors different fish and wildlife species as a way of tracking the health of the Brazos River basin ecosystem.
When the results of this monitoring begin to show changes, the BRA and state and federal partners work together to identify the cause of changes and make improvements that can aid the continued health and quality of the basin's water supply.
Preserving threatened and endangered species is crucial for maintaining the health and diversity of our planet, as well as for preserving its cultural and economic values.