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A tiny greenish brown fish in front of a white ruler.
Information icon Spring pygmy sunfish. Photo by Matt Laschet, USFWS.

Service finalizes critical habitat for spring pygmy sunfish

After new population of spring pygmy sunfish is discovered and review of scientific information

After the discovery of a new population of spring pygmy sunfish and review of scientific information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has finalized critical habitat for the fish in three areas in Alabama: two in Limestone County, and one in Madison County.

Two of these units are currently occupied by the sunfish, while the third unit was historically occupied, but is currently not inhabited by the species. The Service determined the unoccupied unit contains suitable habitat for the species.

Nearly 90 percent of this unoccupied unit is on Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) land that is maintained by the state of Alabama as a wildlife management area. In total, critical habitat covers 1,330 acres, of which 1,209 acres are federally owned and 121 acres are privately owned.

A map showing critical habitat in Limeston and Madison Counties along the Tennessee River in Alabama
Critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish. Map by USFWS.

Critical habitat is specific geographic areas essential to the conservation of endangered and threatened wildlife. Critical habitat designations affect only actions carried out, funded or permitted by a federal agency. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. This designation does not allow the government or public to access private lands, nor does it require implementation of restoration, recovery or enhancement measures by non-federal landowners.

This sunfish is found in springs and spring-fed stream systems that drain into the Tennessee River in northern Alabama. It is dependent on habitats that have stable, groundwater-fed flows and native aquatic vegetation. Current threats to habitat include urbanization, industrial development, and agricultural activities.

The Service proposed adding the spring pygmy sunfish to the threatened list in 2012, and it was added in 2013. In 2012 and 2014, the Service proposed to designate two critical habitat units for the one known population of spring pygmy sunfish. In 2018, the Service reopened the comment period for the proposed critical habitat after the discovery of a population in Blackwell Swamp on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

The Service takes pride in working with landowners to help conserve Alabama’s natural resources and is working with four landowners to help maintain the sunfish’s aquatic habitat. Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) have been implemented in portions of the spring pygmy sunfish’s range since 2012. Approximately 503 acres proposed as critical habitat in October 2012 have been excluded from our final critical habitat designation because the benefits to the species of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion.

The Service continues to work informally with the city of Huntsville, Alabama, related to the early stages of site preparation for the construction of a manufacturing facility for the Toyota-Mazda Joint Venture (JV) that is expected to create roughly 4,000 jobs. The site lies adjacent to the critical habitat of the spring pygmy sunfish, and does not overlap its boundaries. Based on coordination with the city and the JV, the Service believes that strategies have been incorporated into development of the manufacturing facility that benefit conservation of aquatic species.


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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