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Big Sandy crayfish. Photo by Zachary Loughman, West Liberty University.

Crayfish survey reports available for public review

Agency invites further public comment on proposed endangered protections

New survey reports for the Guyandotte River and Big Sandy crayfishes are now available for public review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. In light of these survey reports and to allow for additional public involvement, the agency has re-opened the comment period for 30 days until January 14, 2016.

The Service used the best available information to propose in April 2015 to protect both species as endangered. Recognizing that additional data would help inform the final decision, the agency funded additional surveys in the summer and fall of 2015 that covered the entire historical range of each species.

The reopened comment period will bring the public comment opportunity to a total of 90 days. The Service also committed to considering any comments we received after the comment period closed through the reopening, but no comments were received during this time. We encourage anyone with additional information to submit it during this reopening.

Following the January comment period, the agency will analyze the new survey reports along with all information and comments received from the public and from the proposed rule’s peer reviewers. That analysis will be used to make a final listing decision for the two crayfish species in April 2016.

As announced this past August, the West Liberty University researcher conducting the surveys discovered one new location of the Guyandotte River crayfish within that species’ historical range in Wyoming County, West Virginia. The researcher also reconfirmed the species in its presumed last known location in Pinnacle Creek, but did not find it at any other historical locations in the Upper Guyandotte River basin of West Virginia. A new occurrence of the Big Sandy crayfish was discovered in the West Virginia portion of the lower Tug Fork basin, but the researcher did not find the species in the lower Levisa Fork in Kentucky, where it had previously been documented. With the new survey information, it appears that the Guyandotte River crayfish exists in two West Virginia creeks, and the Big Sandy crayfish remains in four isolated watersheds in the upper Big Sandy River basin.

Excessive sediment on stream bottoms appears to be the primary threat to both crayfish species. Excess sediments fill in the holes and crevices under large boulders and prevent the crayfish from finding shelter from predators. This sedimentation typically results from soil erosion caused by activities such as fossil energy development, road construction and forestry operations. Best management practices can help control sediment and erosion during timber harvest, construction and other projects.

Other threats to the two species relate to the fragmented nature of their surviving populations. These small, isolated populations are inherently more vulnerable to local extinction caused by catastrophic events or low genetic diversity.

For the past forty years, the ESA has been successful in preventing the extinction of more than 99 percent of listed species. In addition to providing regulatory protections, listing under the ESA raises awareness about the need for coordinating conservation efforts, enhancing research programs and developing measures to help recover listed species.

The Service invites public comment at regulations.gov under docket #FWS-R5-ES-2015-0015. Maps, photos and more information are available at: www.fws.gov/northeast/crayfish.

Contacts

Meagan Racey (VA, WV), 413-253-8558 meagan_racey@fws.gov

Elsie Davis (KY) 404-679-7107 elsie_davis@fws.gov

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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