Feds Urged to Set Habitat for Spring Pygmy Sunfish

WASHINGTON (CN) – Five years after U.S. officials marked the spring pygmy sunfish as threatened, the absence of a critical habitat has left the tiny fish clinging to survival, environmentalists claim in a federal complaint.

Filing suit Monday in Washington, the Center for Biological Diversity notes that the Endangered Species Act requires habitat designations no more than one year after species are listed as threatened.

“The spring pygmy sunfish’s very existence remains at risk until the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service fulfills its statutory duty to protect the critical habitat necessary to support its survival and recovery,” the complaint states.

Represented by in-house counsel, the center notes that it has been lobbying Fish and Wildlife to designate critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish since 2009.

“For species like the spring pygmy sunfish, which are threatened largely by habitat loss, failing to designate critical habitat can be disastrous,” Elise Bennett, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email. “Continued delay puts this fish and its spring pools at imminent risk of being swallowed up by sprawling development from Huntsville.”

Discovered in 1937 in Alabama, the pygmy sunfish is a small striped fish that grows to be no more than an inch. It was twice presumed extinct because of development and agricultural practices.

“The Endangered Species Act’s strong critical habitat protections can shield the spring pygmy sunfish from this looming threat,” Bennett added.

With habitat for the fish still delayed, however, “imminent development plans threaten to destroy or degrade it before it can receive protections, thus harming the sunfish’s chances to survive and recover,” according to the complaint.

The center asks that the court make the service give a critical habitat “to safeguard the freshwater springs and spring-fed wetlands the sunfish needs to survive in the wild.”

Representatives for Fish and Wildlife referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond by press time.

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