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Southeast Freshwater Extinction Crisis
Courier-Journal, April 6, 2015

Feds move to protect crayfish from mining damage
ByJohn Bruggers

The closest most people will come to crayfish is on a menu, when ordering, say, crayfish etouffee. Chances are, those came fromcrayfish farmsin Louisiana.The Appalachian region has crayfish, too, and now two of the species are so rare the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasproposed to protect themunder the Endangered Species Act. Among the threats: surface mining.

"For decades coal companies have gotten away with polluting Appalachia's water and killing its species, but it is time for the Endangered Species Act to start being enforced in Appalachia," saidTierra Curry, a senior scientist at theCenter for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for the listing.

The other side will probably counter with more assertions that this is further evidence that President Obama is waging a war on coal. But to be fair, the science suggests that if there has been a war, it's been on the crayfish.

The proposalfollows an announcementlast week the FWS that an increasingly rare bat will be put on the threatened list, giving it the scrutiny and protection of the federal government. The long-eared bat has gotten in trouble because of the fungal disease, white nose syndrome, which is devastating bat populations.

Just as the central Appalachian landscape was beginning to undergo changes from early 20th century mining, logging and population growth, researchers documented a number of crayfish species in the streams of this area known for its natural beauty and diverse wildlife, the FWS says. Two of these crayfishes, the Big Sandy crayfish and the Guyandotte River crayfish, are now in danger of extinction, the agency's research has shown.

The agency specifically mentioned mountaintop removal mining as one of the threats. That's where the tops of mountains are blown off, and waste rock is shoved into "valley fills" in the upper reaches of streams.

Continuingsedimentation have made many streams within their historical ranges to dirty for the crayfishes. The Big Sandy crayfish is found in four isolated populations across the upper Big Sandy River watershed in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. The Guyandotte River crayfish survives at a single site in Wyoming County, West Virginia.

In Kentucky,the Big Sandy basin in Pike County, which includes the Tug Fork and Levisa Fork drainages, 30 streams or stream segments totaling 177 miles are considered impaired, meaning they violate water quality standards or do not meet one or more of their designated uses such as human health or aquatic life, according to the proposal. Of those,25 are listed for aquatic habitat impairment, none for coliform bacteria and one for a fish consumption advisory due to chemical contamination.

Of those streams listed for aquatic habitat impairment, coal mining is cited by the Kentucky Division of Water as the cause in all but two cases. The agency also finds oil and gas development, road construction, stream dredging and chemical spills continue to threaten the crayfish.

The agency hasopened a comment periodbefore making a final determination."Based on the data we have today, we are concerned about the future of both species," said Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner, in a press release. "We base our decisions on the best available science, so we are asking people who may have information about the condition of these crayfishes to contact us to help us make the right decision about their status."

If the agency protects the crayfish, environmentalists will have one more tool to press for cleaner water in coal country.

 

 

2015 www.courier-journal.com.

This article originally appeared here.

Jeffrey pine photo by John Villinski.