skip to content
A small catfish with brown and white markings and long barbells extending from its mouth.
Information icon Carolina madtom. Photo by Scott Smith and Fritz Rohde.

Proposed Endangered Species Act findings for the Carolina madtom and Neuse River waterdog

What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) taking?

The Service is proposing to list the Carolina madtom as an endangered species throughout its range and the Neuse River waterdog as a threatened species throughout its range with a 4(d) rule. We are also proposing designation of critical habitat for both species and releasing a draft economic analysis.

What is the difference between threatened and endangered species?

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), an endangered species is currently in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range, while a threatened species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

What is critical habitat?

Critical habitat is the specific areas occupied by a species at the time it was listed that contain the physical or biological features essential to its conservation and that may need special management or protection. Critical habitat may also include areas that were not occupied by the species at the time of listing but are essential to its conservation.

How is critical habitat determined?

The Service determines critical habitat based on what a listed animal or plant needs to survive and reproduce by reviewing the best scientific information concerning a species’ present and historical ranges, habitat, and biology.

What does critical habitat do?

Designating critical habitat informs landowners and the public which specific areas are important to a species’ conservation and recovery. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership, does not allow the government to take or manage private property, does not establish a refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation area, and it does not allow government or public access to private land.

Designating critical habitat has no impact on landowner activities that do not require federal funding or federal permits. Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service if they are undertaking, permitting or funding activities that may jeopardize a species or “destroy or adversely modify” critical habitat.

About the Carolina madtom

How much critical habitat is being proposed for the for the Carolina madtom?

The Service is proposing to designate about 257 river miles in seven units (geographical areas) in North Carolina as critical habitat for the Carolina madtom.

What is the Carolina madtom?

The Carolina madtom is a small catfish, reaching a maximum length of about five inches. When compared to other madtoms, the Carolina madtom has a short, chunky body and a distinct color pattern. Three dark saddles along its back connect a wide, black stripe along its side extending from its snout to the base of its tail. The adipose fin has a dark blotch that does not quite reach the fin’s edge, giving the impression of a fourth saddle. Yellowish to tan blotches space the saddles, while the rest of the fish is tan. The belly is unspeckled, and the tail has crescent-shaped brown bands near its edge and center. Its pectoral spines have well-defined saw-like projections along both margins. Stinging spines in its pectoral fins earn this fish the “furiosus” title that is part of its scientific name.

A key identifying key features of the Carolina madtom
Carolina madtom identification key. Photo by Richard T. Bryant and Wayne C. Starnes (1999), key by Jose Barrios, USFWS.

Why is the Service proposing to list the Carolina Madtom as an endangered species?

The Service is proposing to list the Carolina madtom as endangered under the ESA due to population declines that are compromising its ability to respond to disturbances. A recent species status assessment confirms that the madtom is facing the possibility of extinction unless the Service and its partners collaborate to conserve and bring back this aquatic species. In assessing the status of madtom populations, experts compared occurrences over time and found that the Carolina madtom has lost 64 percent of its historical distribution. The species has been almost completely eliminated from its once much larger range across North Carolina’s coastal plain. There are also no remaining occurrences of the species in the Piedmont region of the Neuse River Basin.

Where is the Carolina madtom found?

The Carolina madtom is currently found only in the Neuse River and Tar River basins in North Carolina. The species occurs in riffles, runs, and pools in medium to large streams and rivers. It inhabits freshwater with continuous, year-round flow. Optimal substrate for the Carolina madtom is predominantly silt-free, stable, gravel and cobble bottom habitat, and it must have cover for nest sites, including under rocks, bark, relic mussel shells, and even cans and bottles.

Why is the Carolina madtom declining?

The Carolina madtom faces a variety of threats from declines in water quality, loss of stream flow, riparian and instream fragmentation, deterioration of instream habitats, and expansion of the invasive predator flathead catfish. These threats are expected to be made worse by urbanization and rising water temperatures. Specific threats include:

Pollution

The Carolina madtom needs clean, flowing water to survive. Human-caused pollution, including increases in river water temperatures, has been identified as a factor in the decline of the madtom.

Reduced stream flows

Drought and impoundments slow down the natural flow of streams, compromise water quality, hamper fish movement, limit available prey, and prevent waste and fine sediments from flushing out of the stream.

Agriculture and development

Streams with urbanized or agriculturally dominated riparian corridors tend to have more sediment in the water, unstable banks, and/or impervious surface runoff. This results in less suitable streams for fish as compared to habitat with forested corridors.

Habitat fragmentation

Dams and perched or undersized culverts limit the madtom’s ability to distribute throughout streams to find good quality habitat. For example, the construction of Falls Lake dam in the upper Neuse River isolated Carolina madtoms in the upper basin from the middle Neuse basin. Isolated or patchy distributions of fish limit genetic exchange.

Invasive species

The flathead catfish is an invasive predator in the Neuse and Tar River basins. This top predator feeds mostly on other fish. Another threat is the Hydrilla, an invasive submersed aquatic plant, that forms nearly impenetrable mats of stems and leaves in the water column and at the surface. It alters stream habitat, decreases flows and contributes to sediment buildup in streams.

Why do we not have population numbers for the Carolina madtom?

Survey practices and challenges in species detection have made census or population estimates unattainable for the Carolina madtom. Experts defined populations as the river basins in which they historically occurred.

What conservation efforts are being undertaken for the Carolina madtom?

The Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission are working with partners to conserve the Carolina madtom and protect its habitat while meeting the socioeconomic, political and cultural needs of current and future generations of people. Land trusts are targeting key parcels for acquisition. Federal, state and university biologists are surveying and monitoring species occurrences. Funding was recently approved for captive propagation and species population restoration via augmentation, expansion and reintroduction efforts.

How would the Carolina madtom benefit from ESA protections?

Species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA benefit from conservation measures that include recognition of threats to the species, implementation of recovery actions and federal protection from harmful practices. Listing under the ESA generates greater public awareness and conservation by federal, state, tribal, and local agencies, as well as private organizations and individuals. The ESA encourages cooperation with the states and other partners to conserve listed species.

The ESA also requires the Service to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation of listed species. Recovery plans outline actions that are needed to improve the species’ status such that it no longer requires protection under the ESA. The Service develops and implements these plans in partnership with conservation countless partners, including: species experts; other federal, state, and local agencies; tribes; non-governmental organizations; academia. Recovery plans also establish a framework for recovery partners to coordinate their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of implementing recovery tasks.

Under the ESA, federal agencies must ensure that actions they approve, fund, or carry out do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or destroy its critical habitat. In addition, under the ESA, threatened and endangered animal species cannot be killed, hunted, collected, injured, or otherwise subjected to harm. Protected species also cannot be purchased or sold in interstate or foreign commerce without a federal permit.

Is private land included in the proposed critical habitat designation?

All streams being proposed as critical habitat are navigable waters, and the streambeds are owned by the states in which they are located. Ownership of land adjacent to the proposed critical habitat is a mix of private lands and conservation parcels, including easements and state-owned property.

Does the proposed Critical Habitat Designation for the Carolina Madtom include unoccupied habitat?

Three units representing 5.5 percent of the river miles proposed as critical habitat are currently not inhabited by the Carolina madtom. The sites contain physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the species. Species experts believe the recovery of the Carolina madtom would be impossible without the unoccupied units because the currently occupied areas are insufficient for the conservation of the species. The unoccupied units are described as follows:

  1. Unit NR1: 20 miles of Eno River located in Orange and Durham Counties, North Carolina; land ownership is within State Park Lands, local government conservation parcels, and State Game Lands.
  2. Unit: NR3: 15 miles of Contentnea Creek in Wilson County, North Carolina; land ownership is private.
  3. Unit TR1:15 miles of the Trent River located in Jones County, North Carolina; land ownership is private.

Does proposed critical habitat for the madtom overlay with designated critical habitat and other listed species in this same geography?

There are no existing critical habitat designations that will overlap with the Carolina madtom’s proposed critical habitat. However, the range of the dwarf wedgemussel, Tar River spinymussel, and yellow lance overlap with proposed critical habitat for the Carolina madtom. Also, the proposed critical habitat for the madtom does overlap, to some degree, with the proposed Critical Habitat for the Atlantic pigtoe, a declining mussel recently proposed for threatened status.

Why is it important to conserve and recover the Carolina madtom?

The madtom is an indicator species for clean, healthy streams and water resources that communities and countless other wildlife species depend on. The disappearance of key species such as the Carolina madtom in aquatic food systems can cause unpredictable changes that affect fish, wildlife and people up and down the food chain. When a plant or animal goes extinct, it is like losing a page out of a book. We can never get that page back.

What can I do to help conserve the Carolina madtom?

Individuals can do a number of things to help protect freshwater species, including:

  • Conserve water to allow more water to remain in streams.
  • Use pesticides responsibly, especially around streams and lakes, to prevent runoff into aquatic habitats.
  • Control soil erosion by planting trees and plants to avoid runoff of sediments into freshwater areas.
  • Dispose of medications and pharmaceuticals responsibly. Avoid flushing unused drugs down the toilet. Use proper drug disposal programs in your county or state that accept expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from designated users and dispose of them responsibly.
  • To learn more about the Carolina madtom, the conservation measures underway by diverse partners, and what you can do, visit the species profile.

About the Neuse River waterdog

After careful examination of the Neuse River waterdog’s past, present, and future conditions, the Service determined that the Neuse River waterdog meets the definition of a threatened species under the ESA. Therefore, the Service is proposing to protect the Neuse River waterdog, as a threatened species under the ESA, along with a 4(d) special rule. We are also proposing to designate about 738 river miles in 11 units (geographic areas) in North Carolina as critical habitat for Neuse River waterdog.

What is the Neuse River waterdog?

The Neuse River waterdog is an aquatic salamander found only in the Tar and Neuse river basins in North Carolina. It can grow up to 11 inches long. It has a reddish-brown body with an irregular pattern of large blue or black spots. The waterdog has a laterally compressed tail the same coloration as the body; however, the belly is typically a dull brown or gray color with spots similar to those seen elsewhere on the body. Adult Neuse River waterdogs have elongated heads with squared-off noses, cylindrical trunks, and tails that are laterally compressed and ridged. Three dark-red, bushy gills project from either side of the head and a dark line runs through the eye. The skin is smooth, slimy and a light rusty brown color, with the belly being a paler brown or grayish. There are dark brown or blackish spots throughout the surface that are smaller on the underside. The limbs are rather small, and the front and hind feet have four toes each (unlike most salamanders, which have five toes on each back foot).

An identifcation key for the Neuse River waterdog
Identification key for the Neuse River waterdog. Key by Jose Barrios, USFWS.

Why is the Service proposing to list the Neuse River waterdog as a threatened species under the ESA?

Our recent species status assessment confirms that Neuse River waterdog populations are declining due to a host of factors. Experts compared occurrences over time and found that the Neuse River waterdog has lost 35 percent of its historical distribution. This is compromising its ability to respond to disturbances and the species could go extinct in the foreseeable future unless the Service and its partners collaborate to conserve it.

Where is the Neuse River waterdog found?

The Neuse River waterdog is found in the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse River drainages in North Carolina. The species occurs in runs and pools in medium to large streams and rivers with moderate gradient in both the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions.

Why is the Neuse River waterdog declining?

Primary threats to the Neuse River Waterdog include declines in water quality, loss of stream flow, riparian and instream fragmentation, and deterioration of instream habitats. These threats are expected to be exacerbated by urbanization and rising water temperatures. Other contributing factors include:

Fragmented habitat: Dams or culverts limit ability to distribute throughout a stream to occupy quality habitat. Impoundments slow down water and limit the amount of dissolved oxygen.

Development: Paved roads, parking lots, roofs, and even highly compacted soils, like sports fields, prevent the natural soaking of rainwater into the ground. Instead, the rainwater slowly seeps into streams that are altered in the following ways:

Increased water quantity: Storm drains deliver large volumes of water to streams much faster than would occur naturally, resulting in flooding and bank erosion. Species living in the streams become stressed, displaced, or killed by the fast moving water and the debris and sediment carried in it. Decreased water quality: Pollutants (gasoline or oil drips, fertilizers, etc.) accumulate on impervious surfaces and are washed directly into the streams.

Increased water temperature: During warm weather, rain that falls on impervious surfaces becomes superheated and when it enters streams, can stress or kill species living in the stream.

Why do we not have population numbers for the Neuse River waterdog?

Challenges in aquatic species detection make census or population estimates unattainable for the Neuse River waterdog. Instead of using population numbers, experts defined populations based on historically occupied watersheds. To assess the status of waterdog populations, experts compared occurrences over time and found that the Neuse River waterdog has lost 35 percent of its historical range.

What conservation efforts are currently being undertaken for the Neuse River waterdog?

The Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission are working with partners to conserve the Neuse River waterdog and restore its habitat. Land trusts are targeting key parcels for acquisition. Federal, state, and university biologists are surveying and monitoring species occurrences.

How would the Neuse River waterdog benefit from an ESA listing?

Species listed under the ESA benefit from conservation measures that include improved science regarding threats, implementation of recovery actions, and federal protection from harmful practices. Listing under The ESA results in greater public awareness and conservation by federal, state, tribal and local agencies, as well as private organizations and individuals. The ESA encourages cooperation with the states and other partners to conserve listed species.

The ESA also requires the Service to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation of threatened and endangered species. Recovery plans outline actions that are needed to improve the species’ status such that it no longer requires protection under the ESA. The Service develops and implements these plans in partnership with the species experts; other federal, state, and local agencies; tribes; non-governmental organizations; academia; and other stakeholders. Recovery plans also establish a framework for recovery partners to coordinate their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of implementing recovery tasks.

Under the ESA, federal agencies must ensure that actions they approve, fund, or carry out do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or destroy its critical habitat. In addition, under the ESA, threatened and endangered animal species cannot be killed, hunted, collected, injured, or otherwise subjected to “harm.” Protected species cannot be purchased or sold in interstate or foreign commerce without a federal permit.

What is a 4(d) rule?

This rule gets its name from section 4(d) of the ESA, which directs the Service to issue regulations deemed “necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of threatened species.” Typically, the Service uses 4(d) rules to incentivize positive conservation actions and streamline the regulatory process for minor impacts.

The proposed 4(d) rule for the waterdog would apply most of the prohibitions from the ESA with exceptions for species restoration efforts by state wildlife agencies, channel restoration projects, bank stabilization projects, and silviculture practices and forest management activities that implement highest-standard best management practices.

Why is the Service considering a 4(d) special rule for the Neuse River waterdog?

While the take of threatened species is prohibited by regulation, 4(d) rules under the ESA allow activities that are consistent with or contribute to the waterdog’s overall conservation. This supports and encourages partners to get involved with waterdog conservation efforts. We are seeking public and stakeholder input on the proposed 4(d) rule and proposed listing.

Is private land included in the proposed critical habitat designation?

All streams being proposed as critical habitat are navigable waters, and the streambeds are owned by the states in which they are located. Ownership of the land adjacent to the proposed critical habitat is a mix of private lands and conservation parcels, including easements and state-owned property.

Does proposed critical habitat for the Neuse River waterdog overlap with designated critical habitat and other listed species in this same geography?

The only species with designated critical habitat that overlaps with the proposed critical habitat for Neuse River waterdog is the Atlantic sturgeon. Fifty-six miles of the lower Neuse River, and 70 miles of the lower Tar River have overlapping Atlantic sturgeon critical habitat with the proposed critical habitat for Neuse River waterdog. The proposed critical habitat for the Neuse River waterdog also overlaps, to some degree, with the proposed Critical Habitat for the Atlantic pigtoe, a declining mussel recently proposed for threatened status. The range of the dwarf wedgemussel, Tar River spinymussel, yellow lance, and shortnose sturgeon overlap with proposed critical habitat for the Neuse River Waterdog.

Does proposed critical habitat designation for the Neuse River waterdog include unoccupied areas?

All the units proposed as Critical Habitat are currently occupied by the Neuse River waterdog.

Why should people care if the Neuse River waterdog goes extinct?

The Neuse River waterdog is part of North Carolina’s rich biological inheritance and a key indicator species for clean, healthy streams and water resources, on which local communities and countless other wildlife species depend. The disappearance of key species such as the waterdog in aquatic food webs can also cause unpredictable changes that affect fish, wildlife and people up and down the food chain. When a plant or animal goes extinct, it is like losing a page out of a book. We can never get that page back.

What can I do to help conserve the Neuse River waterdog?

Individuals can do a number of things to help protect freshwater species, including:

  • Conserving water to allow more water to remain in streams.
  • Using pesticides responsibly, especially around streams and lakes, to prevent runoff into aquatic habitats.
  • Controlling soil erosion by planting trees and plants to avoid runoff of sediments into freshwater areas.
  • To learn more about the Neuse River waterdog, the conservation measures underway by diverse partners, and what you can do, visit the species profile.

How can the public submit information on the proposal?

Written comments and information concerning the proposed listing rule will be accepted until July 22, 2019, and may be submitted by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2018–0092, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  2. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2017–0018; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

The Service will post all comments on regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept e-mails or faxes.

Where can I get in-depth information about the Neuse River waterdog and Carolina madtom?

Who can I contact for more information?

For additional information, contact Pete Benjamin, U.S. Fish, and Wildlife Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, 551 Pylon Drive, Raleigh, NC 27636-3726, by telephone 919-856-4520 extension 11. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339.

Contact Us:

Looking for a media contact? Reach out to a regional spokesperson.

Share this page

Tweet this page on Twitter or follow @USFWSsoutheast

Share this page on Facebook or follow USFWSsoutheast.

LinkedIn

Share this page on LinkedIn