Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 9, 2018

Contact: Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

Lawsuit Launched to Speed Habitat Protection for Threatened Alabama Fish

Spring Pygmy Sunfish's Freshwater Habitat Imminently Threatened by Planned Auto Plants

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to designate critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish under the Endangered Species Act.

The fish is under imminent threat from a massive automobile manufacturing plant planned adjacent to the Beaverdam Spring Complex, home to the only native population of the species.

The new mega-development will come with equally enormous amounts of new roads, buildings and parking lots. They will impact water quality and disrupt water flow to the springs, risking the destruction of everything living there — including the spring pygmy sunfish.

“We won’t let this rare fish wait any longer for the habitat protections it’s guaranteed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center. “Reckless development has already sent this little fish diving toward the brink of extinction. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to protect the sunfish’s habitat immediately before this massive manufacturing plant destroys what’s left of it.”

The spring pygmy sunfish is a small freshwater fish known from only one spring complex in the Tennessee River watershed. It is so rare that it was twice thought to be extinct. Development, river channelization and pollution have degraded its clear spring habitat.

Then, in January, Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. announced plans to build a massive automobile manufacturing plant in Huntsville, adjacent to the Beaverdam Spring Complex. Beginning as soon as 2021, the 2,400-acre mega-development will house a plant with two manufacturing lines that will produce up to 300,000 cars annually.

The plant would also bring a good number of jobs to Alabama, which the state needs. But for the beautiful springs and unique little fish to be saved, either another site needs to be found, or serious mitigation measures need to be put in place. If the pygmy sunfish is lost, it will be the second species Huntsville has driven to extinction. The whiteline topminnow was a species of fish described in the late 1800s in Big Spring, which is now largely paved over in downtown Huntsville; the fish is extinct.

“Clean, clear springs are important for all living things, including people,” said Bennett. “There’s just no way to protect species like the spring pygmy sunfish without protecting the places they live. Protecting critical habitat will ensure a healthy future for wildlife and the people of Alabama.”

The Center petitioned to protect the spring pygmy sunfish under the Endangered Species Act in 2009. In 2013 the Fish and Wildlife Service protected the sunfish as a threatened species and proposed protections for eight stream miles and 1,617 acres of spring pool and spring-influenced critical habitat in Limestone County, Ala.

The agency was required to designate critical habitat at the same time it listed the species as threatened in October 2013. More than four years later, the Service has not finalized its critical habitat proposal, leaving the sunfish’s dwindling habitat at risk.  

Critical habitat includes areas that with geographic and biological features essential to the conservation of an endangered or threatened species. Once designated, critical habitat receives special consideration when activities funded, permitted or carried out by federal agencies may “adversely modify” — that is, damage — it, enabling the agencies to avoid or minimize harm.

Spring pygmy sunfish

Spring pygmy sunfish photo courtesy Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. 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.

More press releases