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For Immediate Release, January 19, 2012

Contact:  Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Kentucky Fish Named One of 10 U.S. Species Most Threatened by Fossil Fuels

LEXINGTON, Ky.— The Kentucky arrow darter, a colorful fish found in eastern Kentucky and nowhere else on Earth, was named one of the 10 U.S species most threatened by fossil fuel development in a report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, called Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink, highlights the 10 species across the country whose survival is most threatened by fossil fuels. The Kentucky arrow darter has already been lost from more than half of its range because of coal mining. The report calls national attention to mountaintop removal and its effects on wildlife and human communities in Appalachia.

“Mountaintop removal is killing eastern Kentucky,” said Knott County native Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that contributed to the report. “It’s time to end mountaintop removal for the survival of the Kentucky arrow darter, other wildlife and, frankly, the survival of human communities.”

Pollution from mountaintop-removal mining has been linked to deformities and reproductive failure in downstream wildlife and has been associated with cancer clusters and increased incidence of birth defects in humans. In some counties in Kentucky and West Virginia, nearly a quarter of the total land area has been opened up to surface coal mining.

“Forty years of surface mining have kept eastern Kentucky locked in poverty and devastated the health of people and the environment. The Obama administration needs to ban mountaintop removal and get behind the creation of a green economy in Appalachia,” said Curry.

The Kentucky arrow darter is a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection, meaning it is on a federal waiting list. As a result of a legal settlement with the Center, it will be considered for protection by 2015. The darter is found in Breathitt, Clay, Harlan, Knott, Lee, Leslie, Owsley, Perry and Wolfe counties.

Mountaintop-removal coal mining has already destroyed more than 500 mountains, more than 1 million acres of hardwood forest, and more than 2,000 miles of streams in the Appalachian Mountains, one of the oldest and most diverse mountain chains on Earth.

Top 10 List of Wildlife Threatened by Development, Storage and Transportation of Fossil Fuels

Bowhead Whale: The remainder of the endangered bowhead whale population is threatened by potential oil spills, noise from offshore oil drilling, and deadly collisions with ships. An oil spill could easily undo the successful recovery efforts for this species in recent years.

Dunes Sagebrush Lizard: The dunes sagebrush lizard is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act due to impacts from oil and gas drilling on the Permian Basin in western Texas. Disturbance from well pads, leaking pipelines, and high concentrations of toxic gas emitted from wells contribute to the decline of the lizard’s population, which exists on a tiny range within the Basin’s vast oil reserves.

Graham’s Penstemon: This delicate flower lives only on oil shale reserves being explored for mining in Utah. Oil shale mining takes massive amounts of water, putting the flowers at risk of either being starved of water or drowned under new reservoirs.

Greater Sage Grouse: Energy development has caused habitat loss and fragmentation due to roads, pipelines, power lines, and human and vehicle-related disturbance, resulting in marked declines in sage-grouse numbers. Coalbed methane gas development in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming has coincided with a 79 percent decline in the greater sage-grouse population.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle: According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kemp’s ridley is the most seriously endangered of all sea turtles, due to lingering impacts of the BP oil disaster on Gulf waters - the sole breeding ground and key feeding grounds of the turtle. A total of 809 Kemp’s ridleys were found impacted by the spill, and of those 609 were killed.
Kentucky Arrow Darter: Toxic waste pushed into streams from mountaintop coal mining is smothering the rare Kentucky arrow darter fish and poisoning the drinking water of downstream communities. The arrow darter has already been wiped out from more than half of its range.

Spectacled Eider: Oil and gas development, along with climate change, have drastically reduced the frigid habitat range of the threatened spectacled eider. As a result, the western Alaskan population dropped by 96 percent between 1957 and 1992. Aircraft and vessel traffic and seismic survey acoustic activities can all negatively impact the bird’s habitat and cause death.

Tan Riffleshell: This endangered mollusk plays a critical role in the health of Appalachian river habitats by filtering pollutants and restoring nutrients to the water. Acid mine drainage, sedimentation from coal mining, and coal ash landfills are contaminating the mussel’s habitat and breeding areas, further threatening this most endangered member of the mussel family. 

Whooping Crane: The endangered whooping crane overcame near extinction in the 1940s, but the existing wild flock of 437 cranes now faces a new battle for survival. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would run alongside the crane’s entire migratory path from Canada to Texas, and the inevitable toxic waste ponds, collisions and electrocutions from power lines, along with potential oil spills, would decimate the vulnerable remaining population. Although President Obama rejected the pipeline this week, Republicans in Congress are expected to fight that decision.

Wyoming Pocket Gopher: It is estimated that fewer than 40 pocket gophers exist today in their sole range in Wyoming’s Sweetwater and Carbon Counties. Truck and vehicle traffic associated with increasing oil and gas activities result in habitat loss and fragmentation, cutting off potential mating opportunities and endangering the survival of this rare animal.

Advocates’ Choice: The Polar Bear: The polar bears’ survival is completely dependent upon sea ice, which is rapidly melting. They are further threatened by the risk of an oil spill, and activities like seismic testing, icebreaking, and vessel movement also negatively impact polar bears and their food sources.

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