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Information icon Photo by J.R. Shute, Conservation Fisheries, Inc.

Service finalizes listing for Kentucky arrow darter

Lists species as threatened and finalizes Critical Habitat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized its listing determination today for the Kentucky arrow darter.  

As a species that was determined likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, the Service is listing this small, colorful fish as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and finalizing critical habitat.  A special rule under Section 4(d) of the ESA will tailor exemptions for actions that have an overall benefit to the darter.  

In making the decision to list the Kentucky arrow darter, the Service analyzed the best scientific and commercial information available regarding the species.   To protect and restore the Kentucky arrow darter, the Service has been actively partnering with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, other federal agencies, and non-profit organizations to implement conservation measures.  

In cooperation with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, U.S. Geological Survey, the Kentucky Division of Water, the U.S. Forest Service, Conservation Fisheries, Inc., and the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation, the Service completed a conservation strategy for the darter in 2014.  The Service also worked with the U.S. Forest Service to develop a voluntary Candidate Conservation Agreement in August 2015 for the Kentucky arrow darter on Daniel Boone National Forest, which contains almost half of the darter’s streams.

“This listing will help protect this rare fish by protecting its habitat,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director.  “Thanks to all our partners who are working hard to conserve the Kentucky arrow darter.”

Other at-risk species are benefiting from the actions taken by the Service and its partners.  Thanks in part to actions by the U.S. Forest Service, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, the Service concluded last year that ESA protection was not needed for the Cumberland arrow darter, which occupies the upper Cumberland River drainage in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.

This information was considered and evaluated using the five factors provided in the ESA:  

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

Threats to the Kentucky arrow darter are ongoing, with habitat loss and degradation representing the most significant threats.  Resource extraction activities such as coal mining, logging, and oil and gas development, along with land development, agricultural activities and inadequate sewage treatment, have all led to chemical and physical changes in stream habitats adversely affecting the darter.

Historically, the Kentucky arrow darter had been observed in 74 streams in the upper Kentucky River drainage of eastern Kentucky.  The fish has been eliminated from about 49 percent of these streams, with almost half of the losses occurring since the mid-1990s.  Currently, the darter occupies 47 streams across 10 Kentucky counties:  Breathitt, Clay, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Lee, Leslie, Owsley, Perry, and Wolfe.  Only 23 of the darter’s remaining populations are considered stable.

The Kentucky arrow darter reaches a maximum length of 4.7 inches and is straw yellow to pale green, with a variety of red blotches and stripes and blue-green bands on its tail and fins.  It was first identified as a candidate for protection under the ESA in 2010.  The listing and critical habitat designation for the darter are part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan under a Multi-District Listing Agreement aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA listing program.

Critical Habitat

The Service is designating 38 units of critical habitat, all currently occupied by the darter, consisting of approximately 248 stream miles in the 10 counties where it is found.  Of those stream miles, approximately 65 are in federal ownership, 11 are in state ownership, and 172 are privately- owned.  The proposed critical habitat units include the stream channel within the ordinary high water line.  No lands above the ordinary high water line or adjacent uplands have been included in the areas proposed for critical habitat.  The only major change from what was proposed in October 2015 is the expansion of critical habitat Unit 6 downstream to the confluence of Middle Fork Quicksand Creek and Quicksand Creek (an expansion of 1.7 stream miles), bordering Breathitt and Knott Counties.  This was done in response to new occurrence information provided on the species.

Under the ESA, critical habitat identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the darter’s conservation.  Although some of the areas within the proposed critical habitat designation are located on private land, activities on these lands will not be affected unless they are authorized, funded, or carried out by a federal agency.  

Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area.  If federal funds or authorization are involved in a project in the area, the government agency will need to consult with the Service to help landowners avoid, reduce, or mitigate potential impacts to the darter or to ensure actions do not negatively affect the fish or its critical habitat.


Along with the darter’s listing and critical habitat designation, the Service is including exemptions under Section 4(d) of the ESA.  These exemptions permit “take” of the darter during certain activities, including channel reconfiguration and restoration, bank stabilization, bridge and culvert replacement/removal, and stream crossing repairs.  Take is a term under the ESA defined as to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such activity.  Any of these activities should maintain connectivity of darter habitats, minimize in-stream disturbances, and maximize the amount of in-stream cover available for the darter.  

Economic Analysis

The economic analysis associated with the darter’s proposed critical habitat designation estimates minimal economic impacts of the darter’s critical habitat designation.  Those costs are expected to be limited to additional administrative efforts on the part of federal agencies considering the impacts to any proposed critical habitat from federal or federally-funded projects.  Many projects, such as road building or bridge replacement, which may require agencies to consider the darter, already need to consider other endangered or threatened species including the Indiana bat and freshwater mussels.

The final rules are being published in today’s Federal Register and protections under the ESA will take effect on November 4, 2016.

Visit the Kentucky arrow darter species profile to read the final rule and response to comments; view and download photos and maps; and explore more resources.  The listing and critical habitat rules will be available at, on October 5, 2016, under docket numbers FWS–R4–ES–2015–0132 (listing) and FWS–R4–ES–2015–0133 (critical habitat).

For more specific information on the species, please contact Mr. Lee Andrews, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services Field Office, 330 West Broadway, Suite 265, Frankfort, Kentucky, 40601, telephone: 502-695-0468.

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 Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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