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Spring pygmy sunfish
AL.com, October 1, 2012

Feds propose threatened species listing for tiny fish found only in Limestone County

By Steve Doyle

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for a tiny fish found only in Limestone County's Beaverdam Creek.

The agency is proposing to declare the spring pygmy sunfish a threatened species, which would include designating eight miles of the creek and 1,617 nearby acres as critical habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., and Alabama-based fisheries biologist Mike Sandel petitioned the federal government for the listing. They contend that the inch-long sunfish is threatened by urban sprawl from Huntsville, poor agricultural practices and loss of vegetation along the creek.

"The Endangered Species Act is the last hope for the spring pygmy sunfish," Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release today. "Hundreds of freshwater species in Alabama and the Southeast are staring extinction in the face.

"Without help, we risk losing species like the spring pygmy sunfish forever."

The Sewell family, which owns about 250 acres along Beaverdam Creek, signed an agreement with the Fish & Wildlife Service in June that creates a protected area around Beaverdam Spring, Moss Spring and the upper reaches of the creek.

"We've agreed to keep cattle out of it and no pesticides," family member Banks Sewell said today. The deal -- known as a candidate conservation agreement with assurances -- also prohibits any development within 150 feet of the creek on the family's Belle Mina Farms.

The Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama will monitor the agreement, said Sewell.

"It gives us certainty," he said, "as to what we can and can't do in areas where the spring pygmy sunfish exists."

Discovered in 1937, the sunfish was twice thought to be extinct. Two of the three known populations -- at Cave Springs and Pryor Springs -- disappeared by the late 1960s. The last remaining native population inhabits a roughly five-mile stretch of Beaverdam Creek in southeast Limestone County.

The creek bubbles out of the ground at Beaverdam Spring, near the intersection of Powell and Segers roads, then flows south through the Greenbrier community and under Interstate 565 before reaching the Tennessee River.

Because of annexations, most of the creek and surrounding farmland is part of the Huntsville city limits.

Sewell said the creek does not touch the 1,500-acre tract west of Powell Road that his family hopes to sell to the city for a future business park. That property was a finalist for Volkswagen's first U.S. automotive plant, and Huntsville is in the process of having it certified as a Tennessee Valley Authority industrial development "megasite."

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton