North Carolina River Creatures Win Federal Protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized protections for a salamander and small catfish that live only in North Carolina waters.

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

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) — Federal environmental regulators on Tuesday finalized protections under the Endangered Species Act for a threatened aquatic salamander and endangered small catfish that dwell only in the streams and rivers of North Carolina.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the Carolina madtom will be protected as an endangered species. 

The small catfish with stinging spines, found only in the Tar River basin of North Carolina, will have 257 river miles designated as its critical habitat.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, more than 80% of the streams where the Carolina matdom was once found “are so degraded that the fish has already vanished from them or is not expected to persist.”

The FWS also announced on Tuesday protection for an aquatic salamander that lives in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins called the Neuse River waterdog.

The waterdog, which is spotted with red, flame-like gills, will be protected as a threatened species and 779 river miles will be designated as its critical habitat.

Tuesday’s rule comes with a stipulation that allows ongoing logging operations in the salamander’s habitat if certain management practices are followed to guard streams from sediment pollution.

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

“These animals are more than just part of North Carolina’s rich biological heritage, they are important indicator species for clean water and healthy streams, which benefit us all,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the FWS’s Southeast regional director, in a statement.

The move comes after about a decade of legal pressure from environmental advocates, including the Center for Biological Diversity. 

The group says that ensuring healthy water quality where the small fish and salamander lives can also protect drinking water and recreation areas for humans. 

“The Endangered Species Act is the most effective tool available to save plants and animals from extinction, so it’s good news that these special North Carolina creek critters now have the habitat safeguards they need to survive,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center, in a statement on Tuesday. 

The FWS says that the Carolina madtom has lost 64% of its historical range and the Neuse River waterdog has lost 35% of its range.

The agency partially attributes the decline of these species to poor water quality, reduced water quantity and degraded and fragmented habitat. 

“The protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act will help us support conservation efforts currently underway,” Miranda-Castro said.

The agency says it has partnered with Conservation Fisheries Inc., or CFI, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to breed madtoms in captivity with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We want to prevent this unique catfish from going extinct by developing techniques to propagate them in captivity. The eventual goal is to reintroduce madtoms into areas within its former range where the species has been eliminated,” CFI’s co-director J.R. Shute said in a statement.

According to Shute, the madtom will be bred in captivity and reintroduced because the catfish is too scarce to be collected in the wild.

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