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North Carolina biologist TR Russ holding an sicklefin redhorse. Photo by Mark Cantrell, USFWS.

Endangered Species Act protection not needed for seven Southeastern species

Responding to requests to add them to the federal threatened and endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that the Louisville cave beetle, Tatum Cave beetle, black mudalia, sicklefin redhorse, Arkansas darter, and highlands tiger beetle do not need such protection.  A plant species, Hirst Brothers’ panic grass listing is not warranted as it has been determined that it is not a taxonomically distinct species and does not meet the definition of a species under the Endangered Species Act.

“After investigating these seven species in the field and reviewing the best available science, we determined these species do not need the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director.  “Some species are more abundant than previously thought or do not face a level of threat that would warrant listing. One species needs more scientific study, and another, unfortunately is believed to be extinct.”

All seven of these species were candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  After a thorough review of past and current information, including extensive surveys, they have been removed from the candidate list.  

Louisville cave beetle

Historically, this beetle was known to exist in only two caves in Jefferson County, Kentucky: Eleven Jones and Highbaugh Caves.  Over the last two years, field surveys have shown the beetle to live in three additional caves: Sauerkraut, Cave Hill, and Cave Creek Caves.  Although stressors like human visitation and sedimentation still remain, we have no evidence that these stressors are negatively affecting the populations.   

Tatum Cave beetle

This beetle is known to live in a single cave, Tatum Cave, in eastern Marion County, Kentucky.  The species has not been seen since 1965 (a period of 51 years) despite multiple intensive surveys of the cave.  Based on this and the best available scientific information, we believe the Tatum Cave beetle to be extinct.  

Black mudalia

Little is known about this aquatic snail thought to be in the Black Warrior Basin River drainage in Jefferson and Blount counties, Alabama.  From the 1800’s until present time, researchers have recorded conflicting biological information regarding this species.  In 2016, we learned that two different samples previously identified as the Black mudalia were actually not the same.  Before the black mudalia can receive protection, scientists must accurately identify the snail and determine its status and distribution.

Highlands tiger beetle

This beetle occupies open sandy areas of scrub habitat on the Lake Wales Ridge in Polk and Highlands counties, Florida.  Habitat loss and fragmentation along the Lake Wale Ridge has been substantial in the last 50 years. Yet, existing protected and suitable habitat under conservation management exists for the species.  Recent surveys also indicate that both the distribution and abundance of Highlands tiger beetles throughout its range are greater than originally known.  With the amount of available existing suitable habitat, ongoing management actions, documentation of 16 newly identified occupied sites, identification of improved habitat quality, and  existing estimated adult beetle count of more than 10,000 individuals in 56 sites, we find this beetle does not need endangered species protection.

Sicklefin redhorse

Though long recognized by the Cherokee, this fish was discovered by science in the early 1990s.  It is found in Swain, Jackson, Macon, Clay, and Cherokee counties, North Carolina, and Towns County, Georgia.  For several years, it has been the subject of a focused conservation effort by the Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Conservation Fisheries, Inc.  An agreement signed earlier this year formalized the partnership and brought in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Duke Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.  We find this fish does not need ESA protection based on the stability of existing populations, re-evaluation of threat likely to affect populations in the future, and development of a Candidate Conservation Agreement which ensures continued participation by all stakeholders in a focused effort to address and mitigate potential threats while expanding the range and population health of the species.

Arkansas darter

For nearly 30 years, the Arkansas darter (fish) has been classified as a candidate species, which means there is enough biological information and sufficient threats to protect the fish under the ESA, but other priorities have prevented such a listing. Yet, recent surveys done in areas not studied in years have expanded our knowledge and recorded 80 Arkansas darter populations in three unique areas, including high plains, mixed grass prairie, and Ozark Plateau, spread across its multi-state range from eastern Colorado, southwest and central Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and into Arkansas. This additional information proves the Arkansas darter is resilient to threats, and with such high population numbers, makes federal protection not warranted.

Hirst Brothers’ panic grass

Hirst Brothers’ panic grass has been in some form of consideration for ESA listing since 1975.  Over time, we collectively have learned a lot about the plant, and new information helps put other older information into context and sometimes leads us to a different understanding from that of the past. We recognize and appreciate the long standing efforts of the Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, Camp Lejeune North Carolina staff and other botanists to protect and restore the Hirst Brothers’ panic grass and its habitat.  Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information, Dichanthelium hirstii is not a taxonomically distinct species and does not meet the definition of a species under the ESA.  The Service’s decision should not be interpreted as indicating that the Hirst Brothers’ panic grass is not worth conserving.  Rather this is a decision that reflects the accurate implementation of the ESA’s standards.  We greatly appreciate all of the hard work that our partners have undertaken to conserve the plant’s diversity.  

The ESA allows anyone to petition the Service in an effort to add wildlife to the endangered species list. The recent findings on these seven species come as the Service works through hundreds of requests that have come from outside groups in recent years.  For more information on the petition process, visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/listing-petition-process.html.

With such a heavy workload, the Service is taking a two-pronged approach of evaluating the petitions as required by law and emphasizing conserving plants and animals before they need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.  This has led to a broader, partner-driven effort in the Southeast to use flexibilities within the ESA to put the right conservation in the right places, benefit imperiled species, and reduce regulatory burden.

The Service’s Southeast Region, through an aggressive At-Risk species conservation effort, is strengthening existing partnerships, building new ones, and completing a range of conservation actions with the partners, including better surveys and monitoring.  As a result, to date, more than 75 species across the region do not need the ESA’s protection.  Another dozen species’ status has improved from endangered to threatened and in some cases, like the Louisiana black bear, the species have been recovered and removed from the list.

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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