(CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday finalized federal protections for the Alabama mudpuppy and proposed a Florida crayfish for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Fish and Wildlife has determined the Alabama mudpuppy, also known as the black warrior waterdog, is an endangered species currently in danger of extinction throughout all or most of its range. The large aquatic salamander, found only in the Black Warrior River Basin in Alabama, faces threats due to loss and degradation of habitat and poor water quality. Its permeable skin, like other amphibians, and feathery external gills make it particularly sensitive to water quality and oxygen concentration.
The agency also designated 420 river miles of critical habitat for the mudpuppy, but noted “the critical habitat designation should have minimal or no impact on the forestry and coal mining community” because there are already habitat designations for other species in the area. This actual designation is down considerably from the 669 river miles originally proposed.
The Black Warrior River Basin is polluted by “runoff from industrial plants, landfills, sewage treatment plants, construction, and historical impacts of surface mining,” according to Fish and Wildlife. With the Trump administration’s efforts to reinvigorate the mining industry, that could become more than an historical threat.
Fifteen other species, including other amphibians, snails, fish, mussels and turtles are already listed under the act in the Black Warrior basin.
“Historical and future mining projects will have a negative impact on this species. The problem with mining pollution is that it lingers in the environment for decades,” Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview. “It is incredibly important to protect these small freshwater species that are so crucial to the overall health of the environment.”
The waterdog’s listing and critical habitat designation come in response to a court-approved litigation settlement involving the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups. The waterdog has been on the candidate list since 1982. Since 1999, Fish and Wildlife’s own documentation indicated there is sufficient information to prepare a listing proposal, but that action was “precluded by other higher priority listing activities,” according to the agency.
The Center for Biological Diversity and its allies sued the agency on behalf of hundreds of species languishing in listing limbo, and a settlement mandating a multiyear work plan for listing the backlogged species was reached in 2011.
Another Southern water-dependent species petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity is the Panama City crayfish, a two-inch crustacean. After a 12-month review, the agency proposed the crayfish for listing under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species likely to become extinct within the foreseeable future throughout all or most of its range. Unlike other southeastern crawdads already protected under the act due to mining pollution, the Florida species faces threats from development.
They face threats from residential, commercial and agricultural development, and habitat conversion to slash pine plantations. Fish and Wildlife says it is focusing on partnerships with federal, state and local governments, tribes and private landowners to preserve habitat and educate the public about the species.
“Listing a species under the ESA does not necessarily preclude development of lands/parcels where that species is found. If the Panama City crayfish is listed under the ESA, the service will provide incentives for private landowners and conservation partners to protect crayfish habitat while allowing some development,” the agency said.
But the agency’s words don’t hold much water for Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity
“The agency has been relying on these conservation agreements for over a decade, and the crayfish has continued to decline and its habitat has continued to be lost,” Curry said. “Trump has appointed business interests to head the agency. I am surprised they proposed it for listing, but they proposed it for threatened status. We are going to push for a listing as an endangered species, a stronger listing, which includes a critical habitat designation.”
Fish and Wildlife will continue to study the plight of the crayfish in a process that could take up to another year. If the agency deems the species still needs formal protection under the act, it will issue a final listing determination as it did for the Black Warrior waterdog.
The agency seeks comments within 60 days of the crayfish action’s expected publication date of Jan. 3. A public hearing may be requested within 45 days of publication, the agency said.
The final listing and critical habitat designation for the waterdog are effective 30 days from the action’s expected publication date of Jan. 3, 2018.