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Vermilion darter
Illustration by Joe Tomelleri
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April 18, 2000 Contact: Tom MacKenzie 404/ 679-7291


The Vermilion darter, a small, brilliantly colored fish found only in a single tributary in Alabama, is nearing extinction because of decline in water quality and destruction of its habitat. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to list the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The darter occurs only in the Turkey Creek drainage, a tributary of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River in Jefferson County, Alabama. The fish needs free-flowing streams with clear rock surfaces to survive and reproduce. A species is designated as endangered if it is in danger of becoming extinct in all or a significant portion of its range.

"The darter's population is declining rapidly and if we do not take action to protect it, we may soon lose this unique Alabama fish," said Sam Hamilton, the Service's regional director for the Southeast Region. "The darter faces many threats including earthen dams and impoundments that have altered stream dynamics and reduced the species' range significantly, excessive sedimentation that has made its tributary unsuitable for feeding and reproduction, and other pollutants, such as excess nutrients, pesticides and other agricultural runoff, that wash into the Turkey Creek drainage."

Other threats to the darter include reduced genetic diversity due to isolated population segments and the potential for catastrophic events, such as a chemical spill, that could significantly reduce the already low population of vermilion darters, Hamilton said.

The vermilion darter is a small fish reaching just under 3 inches in length. It has a short head and small pronounced mouth. It is distinguished by vermilion pigmentation on its fins and body, especially on its belly. The darter is found only on 7.2 miles of Turkey Creek and the lowermost reaches of Dry Creek and Beaver Creek.

The Service published the proposal to list the vermilion darter as endangered in today's Federal Register. Before making a final determination on this proposal to list the vermilion darter as endangered, the Service will take into consideration any comments and additional information received from the public, the scientific community and other sources.

If the Service determines that endangered status is appropriate for the vermilion darter, this species will benefit from protections and recovery actions under the Act. Species listed as endangered are protected from direct and indirect "take," which includes killing, harming, or harassing. Federal agencies whose actions may affect an endangered species must consult with the Service to ensure that their activities do not further endanger the species. In addition, the Service would develop a recovery plan to formalize ongoing conservation efforts and to identify and implement other actions to restore populations to a level where extinction would no longer be a threat.

A local conservation group, the Society to Advance the Resources of Turkey Creek, recently received funding through the Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to minimize non-point source pollution with Turkey Creek. The Jefferson County Commission and START also have worked together to plan a nature preserve encompassing approximately 730 acres of the watershed. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked with the Alabama River Alliance and Alabama Environmental Council to promote watershed stewardship within Turkey Creek.

The Service is seeking public comments on this proposal to list the vermilion darter as an endangered species. Comments may be directed to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, Mississippi 39213, and will be accepted through June 19, 2000. Requests for a public hearing must be submitted to the same address by June 2, 2000. For more information, please contact Daniel Drennen at the above address or call him at 601/965-4900.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. Photo available at http://Southeast.fws.gov/media/photos.html

Release #: R00-012

2000 News Releases



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