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For Immediate Release, August 21, 2013

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

122 River Miles Protected for Endangered Fish in West Virginia and Kentucky 

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected 122 miles of river habitat for the diamond darter, a small, sparkly fish that has been wiped out from the vast majority of its range by dams and water pollution. The darter was protected under the Endangered Species Act last month as part of an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity under which the Service must speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species. Its “critical habitat” designation includes 28 miles of occupied habitat in the lower Elk River in Kanawha and Clay counties in West Virginia and 95 miles of historical habitat in the Green River in Edmonson, Green and Hart counties in Kentucky.

Diamond darter
Photo courtesy Conservation Fisheries, Inc. This photo is available for media use.

“Fish and people both need clean water. Protecting the diamond darter’s habitat will help make sure these rivers stay healthy for future generations,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center. 

Critical habitat designation requires federal agencies to consult with the Service to ensure that federally funded or permitted activities will not harm darters or their habitat.

Once found in five states, the diamond darter is now so rare that it was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the Elk River in West Virginia in 1980. Fewer than 125 of the fish have been seen over the past 30 years.

Water pollution, small population size and population isolation are the main factors endangering the fish; the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has identified coal mining, oil and gas development, erosion, timber harvesting and poor wastewater treatment as threats to water quality in the Elk River watershed.

The diamond darter became a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection in 2009. In 2011 the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement to expedite protection decisions for all the species on the candidate waiting list as of 2010, along with a host of other species that had been petitioned for protection.

Diamond darters once occurred in the Muskingum River in Ohio; the Ohio River in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana; the Green River in Kentucky; and the Cumberland River drainage in Kentucky and Tennessee. They have not been seen in Ohio since 1899, in Kentucky since 1929, and in Tennessee since 1939. The Southeastern Fishes Council named them to its “Desperate Dozen” list — the 12 most imperiled fish in the southeastern United States.

The Center and a coalition of 16 other conservation groups submitted comments in support of protection for the diamond darter and its habitat. The West Virginia Coal Association, West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, West Virginia Forestry Association and West Virginia Chamber of Commerce submitted comments opposing the fish’s protection.

Diamond darters feed on insects on the stream bottom by burying themselves in the sand and then darting out to ambush prey. They are dependent on clean water and struggle to survive when silt fills in the spaces between rocks that they need for egg-laying and harms the insects on which they feed.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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