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A small fish with bright blue fins and orange coloring on its back.
Information icon Trispot darter. Photo by Pat O'Neil, Geological Survey of Alabama.

Frequently asked questions for the proposed listing of the trispot darter

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

Based on a review of the best available information and full status assessment, the Service is proposing to list the trispot darter as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

What does it mean when a species is threatened?

A species is listed in one of two categories: endangered or threatened. An endangered species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Service is proposing to designate the trispot darter as threatened.

What prompted the Service to take this action?

On April 20, 2010, the Service received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and others to list 404 aquatic species, including the trispot darter, in the southeastern United States. In response to the petition, the Service completed a partial 90-day finding on September 27, 2011, in which it determined that the petition contained substantial information that a listing may be warranted for the darter. The Service then conducted a status review as a part of the ESA’s 12-month finding process.

What are the criteria for deciding whether to add a species to the endangered and threatened species list?

A species is added to the list when it is determined to be endangered or threatened because of the following factors:

  • The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  • Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • Disease or predation;
  • The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or,
  • Other natural manmade factors affecting its survival.

How are those factors determined?

Before the Service can propose to list a species, biologists must first conduct a Species Status Assessment (SSA) report. The SSA is an in-depth review of the species’ biology and threats, an evaluation of its biological status, and an assessment of the resources and conditions needed to maintain long-term viability. The intent is for the SSA to be easily updated as new information becomes available and to support all functions of the Endangered Species Program from candidate assessment to listing to consultations to recovery. The SSA is a living document upon which other documents, such as listing rules, recovery plans, and five-year reviews, would be based if the species warrants listing under the ESA.

How long has the Service been using SSAs in the listing process?

2017 is the first year the Service implemented the SSA framework when considering whether a species needs ESA protection. Learn more about Species Status Assessments.

What threats were identified for the trispot darter?

Reduced connectivity

Numerous natural features can limit or prevent fish movement, such as beaver dams and waterfalls, as well as manmade structures that prevent fish movement. Structures installed at road crossings (bridges and culverts), dams, and pipelines all have the potential to act as barriers to fish movement, block exchange of genetic material between populations, increase a population’s vulnerability to local extinction, and prevent recolonization after local extinction has occurred.

A corogated metal tube allows water to run under a road.
Culverts like this can be a barrier for fish as they swim upstream. Photo by Alabama Rivers and Streams Network SHU Mapper.

Changes in waterflow

These changes can include increases or decreases in storm flow frequency and intensity and a decrease in base flows. Activities that lead to such changes include reservoir construction and operation, surface water and groundwater withdrawals, and increasing the presence of impervious surfaces - such as paving parking lots, constructing houses, and removing trees which are all associated with urbanization. A hydropower dam, Carters Dam, exists on the Coosawattee River on the boundary of the Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge ecoregions. Hydropeaking is a form of flow regulation which introduces frequent, short duration, artificial flow events to the river. Non-hydropeaking reservoirs, farm ponds, recreational lakes, and other impoundments may substantially alter flows by storing water during low flow periods. Unlike hydropeaking reservoirs, this somewhat reduces the negative impacts of quickly rising and falling water levels from hydropower generation. These types of reservoirs can also reduce base flows which reduce the habitat available to darters.

Channel modification

Channel modification can include channelization, piping, in-stream construction, in-stream mining, and reservoir creation. Channelization includes straightening, deepening, or widening of streams and rivers for flood control, drainage improvement, navigation, and relocation. Channel modification can lead to a loss of essential trispot habitat components, or completely destroy the habitat.


Urbanization is expected to affect the trispot darter because the majority of known darter locations are in close vicinity to growing metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Chattanooga, Birmingham, and other areas with growing populations and increasing development. The negative effects of urbanization include increases in stormwater runoff, primarily from an increase in impervious surfaces (paving), an increase in chemical runoff like herbicides and pesticides from lawn, and increases in sedimentation from tree removal.

Loss of plants along river margins and stream banks

Removal of these plants can destabilize stream banks, cause increases in stream sedimentation and turbidity, cause an increase in water temperatures because of the amount of light that is now reaching the water. There are numerous pastures where livestock have access to streams which have been identified as spawning habitat for the trispot darter in the Little Canoe Creek watershed. Livestock accessing these buffers leads to an increased concern for water quality and habitat destruction. Livestock accessing streams also destabilize stream banks which creates increased sediment loads within these small systems.


A wide range of activities can lead to sedimentation within streams including agriculture, construction activities, stormwater runoff, unpaved roads, forestry activities, utility crossings, dredging, and even historic land use. Within the range of the trispot darter, sedimentation is occurring due to urban impacts in the Springville, Alabama, and Dalton, Georgia, areas, agricultural practices in the Conasauga River basin, and livestock access to streams in the Little Canoe Creek watershed.

Water quality and non-point source pollution


Contaminants, including metals, hydrocarbons, pesticides and other potentially harmful organic and inorganic compounds, are common in urban streams and may be partially responsible for the absence of sensitive fish in those systems. These include wastewater treatment plants, mines, and industrial facilities. Non-point sources are more difficult to pinpoint. Pesticides are frequently found in streams draining agricultural lands, with herbicides being the most commonly detected. Poultry Litter - Poultry litter is a mixture of chicken manure, feathers, spilled food, and bedding material that frequently is used to fertilize pastureland or row crops. A broiler house containing 20,000 birds will produce approximately 150 tons of litter a year. Surface-spreading of litter allows runoff from heavy rains to carry nutrients from manure into nearby streams. Repeated or over application of poultry litter, in addition, can result in phosphorus buildup in the soil.

Because of these threats, the trispot darter only survives in four of the twelve watersheds where it is known to occur.

What does the trispot darter look like?

The Trispot darter is a small bodied fish with a complete lateral line, single anal spine, and scaled cheeks. Adult males and females range in size from 1.3 to 1.6 inches, and the body is slender to moderately stout. The darter has three prominent black dorsal saddles, pale undersurface, and a dark bar below the eye. Scattered dark blotches exist on the fin rays. During breeding season, males are a reddish-orange color and have green marks along their sides and a red band through their spiny dorsal fin.

Where does the trispot darter live and what unique characteristics does it require of its environment for survival?

The trispot darter is known to occur in Little Canoe Creek and tributaries (including Gin Branch), Ballplay Creek tributaries, Conasauga River and tributaries (including Holly, Coahulla, and Mill (Georgia) creeks, and a Mill Creek (Tennessee) tributary,) and Coosawattee River and a tributary (including Salacoa Creek). Non-breeding habitat is small to medium river margins and lower reaches of tributaries with slower water flow and is associated with plant matter, logs, small cobbles, pebbles, gravel, and often a fine layer of silt.

Breeding sites are seasonally wet seepage areas and or ditches with little to no flow; shallow depths, moderate leaf litter covering mixed cobble, gravel, sand, clay and emergent vegetation.

What do trispot darters eat?

They mainly eat fly larvae and pupae (an insect in its immature form between larva and adult), as well as mayfly nymphs.

Where was the trispot darter found before it was proposed as a threatened species?

The trispot darter has a historical range from the middle to upper Coosa River Basin; specifically, from Cowans Creek, a tributary to the Coosa River, and Johns and Woodward creeks, tributaries to the Oostanaula River.

What will this listing mean for poultry farmers?

We anticipate no new regulations for poultry farmers. Instead, they are encouraged to follow best management practices that are already in place.

How can I submit a comment?

The public is invited to submit written comments on the proposal to list the trispot darter 60 days from its October 4, 2017 publication in the Federal Register. Please submit comments by December 4, 2017.

The complete listing proposal can be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal: at Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2017–0063; 4500030113. A copy can also be obtained by contacting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1208-B Main Street, Daphne, Alabama, 36526.

Written comments and information may be submitted by: (1) online at by entering FWS–R4–ES–2017–0063; 4500030113, in the search box and then clicking on “Comment Now”; or (2) mail or hand deliver to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2017–0063; 4500030113, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803. All comments must be received on or before December 4, 2017. Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing within 45 days by November 20, 2017, to the Falls Church, VA, address.

How will my comments be used?

All relevant information received during the open comment period from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties will be considered and addressed in the Service’s final listing determination for the trispot darter.

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