(CN) - A colorful Appalachian fish known for elaborate mating dances of splashing about in shallow water has been designated a "threatened" species, deserving protection from the Endangered Species Act. The male of this normally pale species adds bright blotches and stripes when it is time to impress the female, according to the Southeast Region section of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service website.
The Service determined the Kentucky arrow darter is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, and designated 248 miles of streams in 10 Kentucky counties as "critical habitat" for the fish.
The Service's action resulted from a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity expediting protection decisions for 757 species. The Kentucky arrow darter was identified as a candidate for protection in 2010, and the Service's proposal to list the fish under the Endangered Species Act came out in 2015.
The small fish has been lost from about half of its historical range due primarily to water pollution from surface coal mining, according to a statement by environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity. Much of this loss has occurred since the mid-1990s.
"The Kentucky arrow darter and the streams it depends on have been absolutely devastated by surface coal mining," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. "Endangered Species Act protection will not only help the darter survive, but will also help protect the health of the people who have to live with polluted water and air from coal mining every single day."
"Threatened" status allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to include special exemptions that allow harming or killing the fish under certain circumstances, the agency said.
Some activities that would normally be prohibited will be allowed to improve habitat within physically degraded streams, to make them suitable for the species.
In addition to coal mining, the Kentucky arrow darter is threatened by logging, oil and gas well development, agricultural runoff and inadequate sewage treatment, the action stated.
"I grew up on Troublesome Creek, where the Kentucky arrow darter is now nearly wiped out," said Curry. "I don't want to see this beautiful fish disappear from any more streams."
"If oil prices go up again, this unique little fish will be in real trouble," Jim Scheff, executive director of conservation group Kentucky Heartwood told the Center. "The oil and gas industry is gunning for fracking in the Rogersville Shale in eastern Kentucky, and there are pending oil and gas projects in Kentucky arrow darter habitat on the Daniel Boone National Forest, where because of antiquated policies concerning split estates, the Forest Service and industry argue that federal environmental laws that would otherwise protect the arrow darter don't apply."
Protections under the ESA will take effect Nov. 4, 2016.
Photo credit: Dr. Matthew R. Thomas, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
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