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West Virginia fish may become protected under Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed that the diamond darter be protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and that a total of 123 river miles be designated as critical habitat in West Virginia and Kentucky.

This small fish, a member of the perch family named for its sparkling reflections, could once be found along the southern Appalachians from Ohio to Tennessee, but years of changes from dams and channeling restricted this native fish to one stream along the Elk River in West Virginia. Fewer than 50 diamond darters have been collected in the river during the last 30 years.

A semi-transluscent fish emerges from behind a rock.
Diamond darter. Photo by USFWS.

“The protection of the diamond darter under the Endangered Species Act would help keep the extraordinary abundance of native life flowing through West Virginia’s Elk River,” said Deb Carter, the Service’s West Virginia Field Office supervisor. “The river is one of the state’s most ecologically diverse, but its waters face pervasive threats from coal mining, oil and gas development, erosion, timber harvesting and poor wastewater treatment.”

Darters play an important role in waterway systems as indicators of good water quality and diversity. Their presence indicates that the river is healthy and would sustain other populations of fish, such as musky or bass.

To determine if the diamond darter requires ESA protection, the Service evaluated five factors, including effects to the species’ habitat or range, overuse of the species, disease or predation, inadequate regulatory protection and other natural or manmade factors. Out of all factors, the darter is most threatened by the destruction, change or limitation of its habitat.

The Service must consider if areas of habitat are essential to or for conserving a threatened or endangered animal. After extensive evaluation, the Service proposes to designate occupied critical habitat in Kanawha and Clay counties, West Virginia, and unoccupied critical habitat in Edmonson, Hart and Green counties, Kentucky. Designating critical habitat under the ESA is for the purposes of consulting with federal agencies, which have to make special efforts to protect aspects of these areas. The designation does not set up a preserve and only applies to situations where federal funding, permit or authorization is involved.

The Service invites public comment on the proposal through September 24. The Service will consider all comments prior to publishing a final determination.

Comments may be submitted through the following methods:

  • Federal Rulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting information on docket number FWS–R5–ES–2012–0045.
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R5–ES–2012–0045; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, Virginia 22203.

More information can be found at the West Virginia Field Office website. Please note that the proposed rule will be available on the Federal Rulemaking Portal on the official publication date, July 26, and on July 25, the proposed rule is available in the Electronic Public Inspection Desk.


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