Environmentalists Demand Protection for North Carolina River Species

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

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (CN) — An environmental group said Wednesday it plans to sue the federal government to secure endangered species protection for catfish and salamanders in North Carolina because the government has stalled on the proposed protection.  

The Center for Biological Diversity announced its intention to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt over the service’s failure to “make timely final listing and critical habitat determinations on two petitioned freshwater species from North Carolina” under the Endangered Species Act.

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

 The Carolina madtom sports stinging spines on its fins so potent that it earned the scientific name Noturus furiosus. The Neuse River waterdog is a permanently aquatic salamander species with flame-like gills. The two species are found in areas of North Carolina’s Neuse and Tar rivers. 

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

“Both species are part of North Carolina’s rich biological heritage, and due to ongoing threats are now only found in limited and shrinking areas of the state,” the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in an announcement of the proposal last year.

To list a new species under the Endangered Species Act and designate a critical habitat, the Interior secretary has to publish a final decision in the Federal Register. 

But the Center for Biological Diversity says that action is overdue by two months. 

“If, within the next sixty days, the secretary does not publish the required final determinations for the Carolina madtom and Neuse River waterdog, or contact us to develop a timeline for making the finding, we intend to file suit,” Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney for the environmental group, wrote in a 60-day notice to Bernhardt.

De Jong said that an onslaught of development, logging and factory and farm pollution in North Carolina is threatening the aquatic critters. 

“The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at preventing the extinction of vulnerable species, but the law can only work when the government is willing to follow its commands,” the attorney said in a statement. “We’re enforcing the government’s duties to protect these fascinating species, because our state’s vast aquatic biodiversity and clean water are far too valuable for us to let them slowly swirl down the drain.”

The Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned for protection of both species in April 2010. Nine years and one lawsuit later, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued its proposed rule to protection them, but has yet to take further action.

 The Endangered Species Act gives the Interior secretary one year after a proposal is made to file a final decision, but that deadline passed in May.

“Long delays in protecting species under the Act have been a persistent problem for decades. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection,” the environmental group said in a statement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.  

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