Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Endangered Species Act Protections Proposed for Two Appalachian Crayfishes in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia

April 6, 2015


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Crayfishes, including the Big Sandy crayfish pictured here, play an important role in stream environments by recycling animal and plant matter and serving as food for other wildlife, including sport fish. Keeping streams healthy for crayfish also benefits people by ensuring clean water for drinking, wading and fishing. Credit: Zachary Loughman, West Liberty University
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Just as the central Appalachian landscape was beginning to undergo changes related to early 20th century mining, logging and population growth, researchers documented a number of crayfish species in the streams of this area known for its natural beauty and diverse wildlife. Two of these crayfishes, the Big Sandy crayfish and the Guyandotte River crayfish, are now in danger of extinction.

Following a review of scientific and commercial information on the species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to list both as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Ongoing erosion and sedimentation have made many streams within their historical ranges unsuitable for the crayfishes. The Big Sandy crayfish is found in four isolated populations across the upper Big Sandy River watershed in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. The Guyandotte River crayfish survives at a single site in Wyoming County, West Virginia.

“The story of these declining crayfishes is emblematic of the conservation challenges and opportunities confronting one of our nation's most biologically diverse regions,” said Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber. “As we continue through the public process, we are committed to working collaboratively with agencies, industry, and conservation and recreation organizations to conserve these two native species.”

“Based on the data we have today, we are concerned about the future of both species,” said Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner. “We base our decisions on the best available science, so we are asking people who may have information about the condition of these crayfishes to contact us to help us make the right decision about their status.”

For the past forty years, the ESA has been successful in preventing the extinction of more than 99 percent of listed species. In addition to providing regulatory protections, listing under the ESA raises awareness about the need for coordinating conservation efforts, enhancing research programs and developing measures to help recover listed species.

This proposed listing fulfills the Service’s obligation under a 2013 settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity. As part of the agency’s effort to fulfill other settlement agreements and address a backlog of species awaiting status reviews, the Service has committed to proactive conservation partnerships and research that could preclude the need for species being listed. One example is the Southeast At-Risk initiative, which has engaged diverse stakeholder communities to proactively conserve 40 species and prevent their need for ESA listing.

Both crayfish species shelter beneath loose, large boulders in streams and rivers that typically have good water quality and low siltation. The Guyandotte River and Big Sandy crayfishes, as well as other crayfish species, play an important role in healthy streams by recycling animal and plant matter and serving as food for other wildlife.

The primary threats to both species are activities that degrade stream water quality and add excessive sediments to stream bottoms, which prevent crayfishes from sheltering under large boulders. These activities can include fossil energy development, road construction, unpermitted stream dredging and accidental contaminant spills. Best management practices can help control sediment and erosion during timber harvest, construction and other projects.

Also, both species’ small, isolated populations make them more vulnerable to extinction due to catastrophic events or low genetic diversity.

The Service invites peer review and public comment for 60 days on the proposed rule at under docket #FWS-R5-ES-2015-0015. The proposed rule describes what information we need, such as other occupied crayfish sites, additional survey and water quality data, and climate change projections.

Following the comment period, the Service will make a final decision for each of these species to list as endangered, list as threatened, or withdraw the proposal. If either or both species are listed as endangered or threatened, the ESA requires the Service to review the species’ range to identify areas that are considered essential for its conservation as critical habitat.

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