Press Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Reclassifies Fish Native to Western Kentucky
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Following a review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is downlisting the relict darter, a small fish native to the Bayou de Chien stream system in western Kentucky, from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is also implementing a 4(d) rule that tailors protections for the darter. 

“Conservation efforts from our partners, with assistance from the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, have brought the relict darter one step closer to recovery,” said the Service’s Acting Regional Director, Mike Oetker. “The ESA thrives due to partnerships, and it is thanks to the innovative conservation efforts of these partnerships that the relict darter has been able to overcome some of the challenges it faces and improve its status.” 

The relict darter was first listed as an endangered species in 1993 due to habitat deterioration and water pollution and siltation, resulting from stream channelization and poor land use practices. Since then, the darter has benefitted from conservation actions in the Bayou de Chien stream system. 

The Service has worked to recover the darter with multiple agencies and private partners, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves, and The Nature Conservancy. The Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program played a leading role in providing technical and financial assistance to agencies and private landowners. 

For a threatened species, the Service may use the flexibility provided under the ESA’s Section 4(d) to tailor take prohibitions to those that provide conservation benefits for the species – referred to as a 4(d) rule. This targeted approach minimizes ESA conflicts by allowing some activities to continue that may benefit and not significantly harm the darter, while focusing efforts on the threats that slow the species’ recovery. These customized protections minimize the regulatory burden while maximizing the likelihood of recovery for threatened species. 

The Service’s 4(d) rule provides exceptions to incidental take provisions to accommodate permitted activities. These include state cooperative agreement conservation programs, law enforcement actions, and incidental take associated with channel reconfiguration or restoration projects, bank stabilization projects, bridge and culvert replacements and low head dam removals. It also covers transportation projects that provide fish passage fish passage
Fish passage is the ability of fish or other aquatic species to move freely throughout their life to find food, reproduce, and complete their natural migration cycles. Millions of barriers to fish passage across the country are fragmenting habitat and leading to species declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Fish Passage Program is working to reconnect watersheds to benefit both wildlife and people.

Learn more about fish passage
if conducted outside the relict darter breeding season (March 1 – June 30) following best management practices. The 4(d) rule also exempts Natural Resource Conservation Service projects that benefit relict darter, although interagency consultation under section 7 of the ESA may still be required. 

Today’s announcement comes as our nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. In its first 50 years, the ESA has been credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction thanks to the collaborative actions of federal agencies, state, local and Tribal governments, conservation organizations and private citizens. 

The final rule is available on the Internet at Comments and materials received, as well as some supporting documentation used in preparing this rule, are available for public inspection at All of the comments, materials, and documentation that were considered in this rulemaking are available at at Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2021-0093. The rule will become final on October 27, 2023. 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lee Andrews, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kentucky Ecological Services Field Office, 330 West Broadway, Suite 265, Frankfort, KY, 40601; telephone 502-695-0468; or email Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339.  

For more information on the relict darter, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit Connect with us on Facebook at, follow our tweets at, watch our YouTube Channel at, and download photos from our Flickr page at

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Aquatic animals
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Aquatic environment
Endangered and/or Threatened species