Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 20, 2018

Contact: Perrin de Jong, (828) 252-4646,

Lawsuit Filed to Speed Habitat Protections for Two Appalachian Crayfish

Delay Has Increased Extinction Risk for Critically Imperiled Crawdads

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— The Center for Biological Diversity today sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky for the Big Sandy crayfish and the Guyandotte River crayfish.

The two Appalachian crayfish were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 because of habitat loss and water pollution, largely due to mountaintop removal and other forms of coal mining. But the Service is now late in designating required critical habitat areas for the imperiled crustaceans, which are found nowhere else on Earth.

“Every day that we delay these habitat protections is a day these two Appalachian crawdads move closer to extinction,” said Perrin de Jong, staff attorney at the Center. “Local communities will benefit, too. Protecting the habitat of these unique species will help prevent their extinction and protect water quality for local residents.”

The endangered Guyandotte River crayfish has lost more than 90 percent of its range and is now found only in Wyoming County, West Virginia. The threatened Big Sandy crayfish’s range has been reduced by more than 60 percent. It is found in the upper Big Sandy drainage in southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky.  

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to designate critical habitat for these species within one year of when they were listed, but the agency has yet to act to protect their habitats. Though it is already illegal to harm the crayfish, critical habitat designation adds an additional layer of protection. It requires any federally funded or permitted project to consult with the Service to make sure crayfish habitat is not harmed.

“Surface coal mines are bad for the health of every living being around them,” de Jong said. “These rare crayfish could be wiped out by the mines, which also threaten people living nearby by polluting their drinking water and air.”

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals. They are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web.

Big Sandy crayfish

Big Sandy crayfish photo by Guenter Schuster. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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