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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Missouri Fish Gets Listing, No Habitat

WASHINGTON (CN) - The grotto sculpin, a cave-dwelling fish found in only one county in Missouri, has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to designate critical habitat for it due to community efforts.

First identified as a candidate for listing in 2002, the listing was spurred by a 2011 settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that resulted in a court-approved five-year workplan to fast-track listing decisions for 757 species across the country, according to the CBD's statement.

The sculpin is a small cave-adapted fish that only lives in five cave systems and two surface streams in Perry County, Mo. The area is pockmarked by thousands of sinkholes and over 700 caves, which is known as a karst system. Unfortunately, surface pollutants from agriculture, antiquated septic systems and industrialization can rapidly contaminate underground waterways through the sinkholes, some of which have been artificially converted to vertical drains that have been installed without appropriate best management practices.

The sinkholes themselves historically have been used as household dumps for such things as chemicals, sewage, pesticide and herbicide containers, tires and even dead livestock, the action said.

The sculpin suffered "two mass mortality events" in the early 2000s due to single-source pollution that drained into the underground aquatic habitats of the fish, the USFWS said in its fact sheet.

"The grotto sculpin's isolated populations are each susceptible to local extirpation [extinction] from a single catastrophic event, such as a toxic chemical spill or storm event that destroys its habitat. Local extirpation of one or more of the existing five populations would reduce the ability to recover from the cumulative effects of smaller chronic impacts to the population and habitat such as progressive degradation from water contamination," the action noted. The fish must also contend with sediment and siltation, hydraulic fracturing operations, and climate change.

The most significant change from the 2012 proposed rule is the agency's determination that all areas proposed for critical habitat designation be excluded based on a conservation plan by Perry County officials and other partners, including 56 local groups and state and federal agencies. The grassroots citizen effort aims to improve water quality for the fish and the people who live in Perry County, the agency said.

"The residents of Perry County are to be commended for their forward-looking approach to addressing water quality issues in their county. The partners have developed a plan that will not only conserve the habitat of the grotto sculpin, but will conserve and safeguard the water that supports the entire community," Amy Salveter, the USFWS' project leader for ecological services in Columbia, Mo., was quoted as saying in the agency's press release.

The CBD appears to be less sanguine about the decision to forgo critical habitat designation. "Protection for the grotto sculpin has been a wake-up call for the communities of southeastern Missouri to stop carelessly polluting their water. I hope very much that this plan is more than empty promises and that real action's taken to secure a future for this unique cave fish," Noah Greenwald, the group's endangered species director, was quoted as saying in the CBD press release.

The listing is effective Oct. 25

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