Five Southern Species Now Protected
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday protected five southeastern fish species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Tennessee is home to three of the species; Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky are home to one species each. The Center for Biological Diversity has long advocated for protection of imperiled Southeastern species, including petitioning in 2004 to protect four of the five fish in today's ruling.
"We're delighted these five southeastern fish species now have the Endangered Species Act protection that they need to survive," said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center, which is working to protect freshwater species across the Southeast.
The fish are gaining protection as part of a landmark legal settlement reached between the Center and the Service that will ultimately expedite protection decisions for 757 species across the country.
The five fish species have become rarer because of habitat loss and pollution. Endangered Species Act protection goes into effect for them tomorrow, and the Service will propose "critical habitat" to protect the fish within the next few months.
"Protecting these species will also protect streams that give drinking water and recreation to Southeast communities," said Curry. "Living streams and rivers are deeply linked to the rich culture and history of the Southeast - helping rivers helps protect that culture."
Background on the Species
The Cumberland darter is found in Whitley and McCreary counties, Kentucky, and Campbell and Scott counties, Tennessee. It is threatened by pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining, which has also recently been linked to increased incidence of cancer and birth defects in human communities. The darter is also threatened by pollution from sewage and agricultural runoff. The Center petitioned for federal protection of the Cumberland darter in 2004.
The chucky madtom is a rare catfish known from only two streams in Tennessee - Dunn Creek in Sevier County and Little Chucky Creek in Greene County. Only three chucky madtom individuals have been encountered since 2000; the fish likely survives only in Little Chucky. It is threatened by pollution from agriculture and animal feedlots. The Center petitioned to protect the madtom under the Endangered Species Act in 2004.
The laurel dace is found in Bledsoe and Rhea counties, Tennessee, on the Walden Ridge portion of the Cumberland Plateau. It is threatened by pollution from logging, coal mining, agriculture and rock removal.
The rush darter occurs in Etowah, Jefferson and Winston counties, Alabama. It is threatened by pollution from urbanization and logging. The Center filed a petition seeking federal protection for the rush darter in 2004.
The yellowcheek darter is found in the Little Red River and its tributaries in Cleburne, Searcy, Stone and Van Buren counties, Arkansas. Much of its original habitat was lost following the construction of a dam on the Little Red River to create Greers Ferry Reservoir. It is also threatened by natural gas development, pollution from animal feedlots, cattle grazing, clearcut logging and gravel mining. The Center sought Endangered Species Act protection for the yellowcheek darter in 2004.
These five fish species have been waiting on a "candidate" list for federal protection for many years; candidates are species known to qualify for Endangered Species Act listing for which actual protection is precluded by other financial priorities. The Center filed suit in 2006 to gain federal protection for all candidate species, including the five fish in today's final listing rule.
"The Southeast is home to more species of freshwater animals than anywhere else on Earth. Sadly, the region has already lost many of them to extinction," Curry said. "The protection of these five fish species will help stem the tide of extinction and herald the beginning of a new era of species protection in the region."
The Center petitioned to protect 404 southeastern freshwater species under the Endangered Species Act in April 2010. Initial findings on the petitioned species are due later this year.