Southeastern Kentucky Fish Protected Under Endangered Species Act With 248 Stream Miles of Critical Habitat

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PictureKentucky arrow darter photo by Dr. Matthew R. Thomas, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

For Immediate Release, October 4, 2016

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495, 
Jim Scheff, (859) 334-0602, jim@kyheartwood.orgSoutheastern

Kentucky Fish Protected Under Endangered Species Act With 248 Stream Miles of Critical Habitat
Kentucky Arrow Darter Lost From Half Its Range Due to Mountaintop Removal

LEXINGTON, Ky.— Under a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity expediting protection decisions for 757 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Kentucky arrow darter, a small fish found only in southeastern Kentucky, under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also protected 248 miles of streams in 10 eastern counties as “critical habitat” for the fish. The fish has been lost from about half of its historical range due primarily to water pollution from surface coal mining. Much of this loss has occurred since the mid-1990s.

Kentucky arrow darter photo by Dr. Matthew R. Thomas, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. This photo is available for media use.“The Kentucky arrow darter and the streams it depends on have been absolutely devastated by surface coal mining,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection will not only help the darter survive, but will also help protect the health of the people who have to live with polluted water and air from coal mining every single day.”

The streams being proposed for protection as critical habitat are found in Breathitt, Clay, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Lee, Leslie, Owsley, Perry and Wolfe counties. Critical habitat protection means that any federally funded or permitted project will have to consult with the Service to make sure activities do not hurt the fish or its habitat. 

The Kentucky arrow darter has been lost from 36 of 74 sites, with 16 of these extirpations having taken place since the mid-1990s as mountaintop-removal coal mining expanded. In some counties in eastern Kentucky, nearly one-fifth of the total surface area of the county has been permitted for coal mining, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. As of 2008, 23 percent of the total area of Perry County and 18 percent of the total area of Knott County were under open permits for surface coal mining.

“I grew up on Troublesome Creek, where the Kentucky arrow darter is now nearly wiped out,” said Curry. “I don’t want to see this beautiful fish disappear from any more streams.”

Populations in nearly half of the darters’ occupied streams are ranked as vulnerable and are isolated, putting the species at risk of extinction throughout its range. In addition to coal mining, the Kentucky arrow darter is threatened by logging, oil and gas well development, agricultural runoff and inadequate sewage treatment. The healthiest surviving populations are found on the Daniel Boone National Forest and Robinson Experimental Forest.

“If oil prices go up again, this unique little fish will be in real trouble,” said Jim Scheff, executive director of Kentucky Heartwood. “The oil and gas industry is gunning for fracking in the Rogersville Shale in eastern Kentucky, and there are pending oil and gas projects in Kentucky arrow darter habitat on the Daniel Boone National Forest, where because of antiquated policies concerning split estates, the Forest Service and industry argue that federal environmental laws that would otherwise protect the arrow darter don’t apply.”

Kentucky arrow darters are 5 inches long, with a straw-yellow to pale-green background color most of the year; males become brightly colored during the breeding season, becoming blue-green with scarlet spots and orange bars. They feed on mayflies and young crawdads.

Pollution from surface coal mining in Appalachia has been linked to declines in downstream fish, salamanders, insects and mussels. Mining also threatens downstream communities with pollution and risk of flooding. More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies have linked mining pollution in Appalachia to health problems, including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects. More than a million acres of hardwood forest and more than 2,000 miles of streams have already been destroyed by surface coal mining in Appalachia.

To date 177 plants and animals have received protection as a result of the Center’s agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and another 20 have been proposed for protection. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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