Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 5, 2018

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,                          

Alabama's Slenderclaw Crayfish Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protections

Protections Include 78 River Miles of Critical Habitat

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protections for Alabama’s slenderclaw crayfish under the Endangered Species Act, in response to a petition from conservation groups.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Alabama Rivers Alliance and allies petitioned for protection of the crayfish in 2010. Today’s decision is the result of litigation requiring a decision on the rare animal’s protection. The species is threatened by poor water quality resulting from dams and pollution.

“The endangerment of the slenderclaw crayfish tells the story of the havoc we’ve wreaked on our rivers,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “With the protection of the Endangered Species Act, we have the chance to save this little crayfish for future generations.”

The tiny crayfish has declined by 80 percent and now survives only in two creeks on Sand Mountain, near Lake Guntersville in DeKalb and Marshall counties. Most of the crayfish’s habitat was flooded when the Tennessee River was dammed to create 69,000-acre Lake Guntersville in 1939.

The slenderclaw crayfish is just 1.5 inches long, with cream-and-orange mottling. It prefers shallow, slow-flowing streams with intact riparian cover. It needs clean water because excess silt and sediment fill in the spaces between rocks it uses for sheltering, and because it feeds on mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies that also need clean water.

In a 2014 study, scientists surveyed 55 locations to find the crayfish. They concluded that it is now missing from the vast majority of its range and recommended the crayfish be considered for federal protection. Additional surveys have found very few crayfish, and both the Short Creek and Town Creek populations are considered to have low resiliency. The surviving populations in the two creeks are isolated from one another.

Today’s proposal would list the crayfish as “threatened” and includes a special “4(d)” rule that would protect the species from killing, collection, sale and activities that would alter or degrade its habitat without a permit. The final rule should be published 12 months from now.

A photo of the slenderclaw crayfish is available for media use.

Scientists estimate nearly half of all crayfishes are vulnerable to extinction. Alabama has more species of crayfishes than any other state. Of the roughly 400 known species of crayfish in the world, at least 97 are found in Alabama. They range in size from about 8 inches for the largest, the Tennessee bottlebrush crayfish, to about 1 inch for the smallest, the least crayfish.

Crayfish are considered a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by more than 400 other species, including bass, catfish, frogs, insects and small mammals. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals. They are eaten in turn by fish, giant salamanders and otters, making them an important link in the food web. Their burrowing activity helps maintain healthy soil by transferring nutrients between soil layers.

Freshwater species are being lost to extinction at 1,000 times the natural rate because of dams, pollution, climate change and the ever-increasing use of water to meet the demands of exponential human population growth.

Dams harm freshwater species by flooding their habitat, cutting off dispersal and changing water quality both above and below the dam. New proposals to build dams threaten other imperiled species in the Southeast, including the Gulf sturgeon and Pearl River map turtle.

Slenderclaw crayfish

Slenderclaw 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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