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For Immediate Release, September 24, 2013

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Three Freshwater Species From Georgia, Florida and Tennessee Closer to
Endangered Species Act Protection

ATLANTA— The Center for Biological Diversity reached a legal agreement late Monday requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make decisions on Endangered Species Act protection for the bridled darter, Panama City crayfish and Suwannee moccasinshell mussel. The Center petitioned for protection for the species in 2010, and in 2011 the Service determined that all three may warrant federal listing. As a result of yesterday’s agreement, the Service will make a protection decision for the moccasinshell by 2015 and for the darter and the crayfish by 2017. The species are facing extinction primarily due to water pollution.

“Protecting these little creatures that we don’t often think about, like mussels and crawdads, will also help protect the health of the water people need,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center.

The bridled darter is a small fish discovered in 2007, found only in northern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee in the Conasauga and Etowah river watersheds. It is a slender, 3-inch fish with overlapping dark, circular blotches on its sides that form undulating stripes. The darter is very sensitive to water pollution and is threatened by runoff from development, logging and agriculture.

The Suwannee moccasinshell is a small freshwater mussel found only in the Suwannee River drainage in Florida. Until it was rediscovered in 2012, scientists feared it was already extinct because it hadn’t been seen since 1994. It is threatened by pollution, drought and groundwater pumping. At 2 inches long, it has a black or yellowish-green shell shaped like a rhomboid. It was first put on a waiting list for federal protection in 1994.

The Panama City crayfish is known only from the flatwoods and temporary ponds of a small area of Bay County, Fla. — a small, brown crayfish with a 2-inch-long body and red dots on its head that’s imperiled because of groundwater depletion, development and pollution.

Though often underappreciated, freshwater species play a critical role in maintaining the water quality and ecological health of streams and rivers. Crayfish and small fish like darters play an important role in the food web, providing food for larger fish, birds, otters and other animals. Freshwater mussels breathe and feed by constantly filtering water, which removes harmful pollutants, making the water clearer.

“The Southeast is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has already lost more than 50 of these species to extinction,” said Curry. “We need to do everything we can to safeguard the Southeast’s rivers for future generations.”

The three Southeast freshwater species are three of 10 species across the country that will receive protection decisions under Monday’s settlement. The other species — a fox, two birds, two amphibians and two reptiles — include a New England songbird, the eastern hellbender salamander, the Florida Keys mole skink, MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow, boreal toad and critical habitat for the loggerhead sea turtle. The animals are facing extinction for many reasons, chief among them habitat loss, pollution and climate change.

Under a landmark settlement agreement reached with the Service in 2010 for 757 imperiled species across the country, the Center can seek expedited protection decisions for 10 species per year.

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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