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A small catfish with brown and white markings and long barbells extending from its mouth.
Information icon Carolina madtom. Photo by Scott Smith and Fritz Rohde.

Carolina madtom and Neuse River waterdog proposed for Endangered Species Act protection

Critical Habitat proposed for both species, with a 4(d) special rule proposed for waterdog, allowing for tailored conservation

The venom in the stinging spines of the Carolina madtom’s fins is so potent that it earned the freshwater catfish the scientific name, Noturus furiosus. The Neuse River waterdog salamander, with its black spots and red external gills, looks like something out of a science fiction movie.

Both species are part of North Carolina’s rich biological heritage, and due to ongoing threats are now only found in limited and shrinking areas of the state. Following rigorous scientific review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to protect the Carolina madtom as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Neuse River waterdog as threatened.

“We look forward to continuing our work with our state and local partners within the Tar and the Neuse Rivers,” said Pete Benjamin, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Raleigh, North Carolina, field office. “Together we will conserve aquatic wildlife and implement actions that have additional benefits to local communities and other native wildlife in the area.”

The ESA defines endangered species as those that are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range, and threatened species as those that are likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of their range within the foreseeable future.

These findings are the result of reviews conducted by Species Status Assessment (SSA) teams composed of experts from state and federal government agencies and academic institutions. The assessments (See madtom SSA and waterdog SSA) included comprehensive reviews of scientific information as well as evaluations of current population status and projected trends in population levels based on threats to the Carolina madtom and the Neuse River waterdog.

The Service is proposing to designate about 257 river miles in seven units in North Carolina as critical habitat for the Carolina madtom and about 738 river miles as critical habitat for the Neuse River waterdog.

For the waterdog, the Service is also proposing a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA, which will allow the agency to tailor ESA protections while reducing regulatory burdens. While conservation efforts focus threats that are slowing the species’ recovery, activities that do not significantly harm the species will be allowed to continue.

The Service is seeking information about distribution, status, population size or trends, life history and threats to these species. Comments received will be reviewed, addressed and, where appropriate, incorporated into the final listing rule. If these species are listed under the ESA, the Service will continue to work closely with all partners to develop recovery plans to conserve them.

With Carolina madtom population in the Trent River within the Neuse River Basin presumed extinct, remaining populations in the Tar and the Neuse River Basins are facing a variety of threats. Ongoing threats include declines in water quality, loss of stream flow, fragmentation of riparian and instream habitats, deterioration of instream habitats, and expansion of the invasive predator flathead catfish. These threats are expected to be exacerbated by urbanization and extreme weather events like hurricanes.

Challenges to the Neuse River waterdog include dams or culverts that limit the salamander’s ability to move throughout a stream to occupy quality habitat. Impoundments also slow down water and limit the amount of dissolved oxygen. Development, pollution and increased water temperature also add stress to or kill waterdogs living in the stream. Excessive aquatic plant growth, particularly from hydrilla, an invasive water weed, have become a problem in the upper Neuse River Basin, likely interfering with waterdog movement and foraging during the summer months.

The Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission are working with numerous partners to conserve the Neuse River waterdog and Carolina madtom and restore habitat. One restoration project involves partnering with land trusts to target key parcels for acquisition. Federal, state and university biologists are surveying and monitoring species occurrences.

Conservation Fisheries Inc., collected Carolina madtom individuals as well as juveniles and eggs and is attempting to propagate it in captivity. The work is made possible by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The goal is to put the fish produced by Conservation Fisheries back into the wild to augment and expand the current populations into historical habitat.

Written comments and information concerning the proposed listing rule will be accepted until July 22, 2019. Requests for public hearings should be submitted within 45 days by July 8, 2019. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2018–0092, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  2. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2017–0018; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

The Service will post all comments on regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept e-mails or faxes.

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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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