Environmentalists Bring Second Suit to Protect NC River Species

The Neuse River waterdog, a salamander species. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

(CN) — An environmental group sued the federal government again Tuesday for not giving endangered species protections to two aquatic creatures in eastern North Carolina, claiming officials have dragged their feet for nearly a decade on the proposed protection. 

The Center for Biological Diversity made good on its threat to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for the second time over the government’s failure to protect the Carolina madtom catfish and the Neuse River waterdog, an aquatic salamander, under the Endangered Species Act.

The Carolina madtom, which the environmentalists describe as a “small but feisty” catfish with stinging spines, and the Neuse River waterdog, with flame-like gills and “legendary hunting abilities,” are native to the Neuse River and Tar River watersheds in North Carolina. 

The Carolina madtom, a type of catfish. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

According to the complaint filed in North Carolina federal court, both species have “experienced steep population declines and the loss of entire populations across their ranges” due to threats from urban sprawl, logging, factory-farm pollution and habitat loss. 

The Center for Biological Diversity filed its initial petitions to protect the two creatures in 2010 and then sued the government to enforce listing deadlines in 2018 after a seven-year delay. 

In response, the Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule last year to list the Carolina madtom as endangered and the Neuse River waterdog as threatened, and to designate 995 river miles of critical habitat for the species. 

But that’s where progress stalled once again, according to the lawsuit. It claims the government has violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to make a final decision on the proposed protections within the 12-month deadline, which passed in May. 

“After 10 years of federal inaction, these two Carolina treasures need federal wildlife officials to step up to the plate and do their jobs,” Perrin de Jong, a North Carolina-based staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Tuesday. “The madtom and waterdog won’t have a future without Endangered Species Act protections.” 

The environmental group has requested a court order declaring that the government violated the Endangered Species Act and directing the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the madtom and waterdog must be protected under the law by a court-ordered deadline. 

“I never imagined we’d have to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service twice to enforce its legal duty to protect the same species, but we’re prepared to go the distance, even as the government sleeps through its lifesaving responsibilities,” said de Jong. “Conserving our irreplaceable biodiversity, and protecting clean water for all North Carolinians at the same time, should be a no-brainer.” 

A representative for the Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

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