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Partners improve habitat for rare Buck darter in Kentucky

The Buck darter is a little fish that can be found only in parts of the cold water springs of the Buck Creek watershed in south-central Kentucky. Surveys by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and Eastern Kentucky University have shown that there has been a massive decline in the species over the years.

A pale yellow fish with colorful fins
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating if the Buck darter needs federal protection. Credit: Matthew R. Thomas, Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Poor livestock production practices, stream channelization and excessive sedimentation and animal waste have all been direct threats to the darter. In addition, road development, land clearing associated with industry and other poor land use practices contributed to the decline.

The little darter is currently being reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to see if it warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

A woman smiling while riding a red four-wheeler
Landowner Charlotte Stewart worked with multiple partners to modify her farm practices and benefit the darter. Credit: Brent Harrel, USFWS.

In an effort to improve the species’ habitat before there is a need to list it, the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program has been working with local landowners and conservation partners such as Natural Resource Conservation Service, Pulaski County Conservation District, Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and Conservation Fisheries International. The goal is to stabilize or recover the species in a manner that would help both the fish and local landowners through conservation without conflict.

Landowners Danny and Charlotte Stewart have a farm at the headwaters of Stewart’s Branch, a Buck Creek tributary. They agreed to work cooperatively with the Partners program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pulaksi County Conservation District and Eastern Kentucky University and other conservation partners to install and implement best management practices and to allow researchers to monitor the darter. Through the Partners and Farm Bill programs, the Stewarts erected fencing to keep livestock away from over a half a mile of Buck darter habitat, which improved water quality by reducing sediments and animal wastes from entering the stream.

In addition, the partners established innovative rotational grazing, heavy use feeding area, stream crossings that allow fish passage and alternate water sources for the landowner. This project has contributed to the recovery of the Buck Darter and has helped the landowner with their livestock production.

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 can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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