Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 11, 2018

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

Lawsuit Seeks Critical Habitat Protection for Threatened Alabama Fish

Development, Industrialization Imminently Threaten Spring Pygmy Sunfish

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— The Center for Biological Diversity today sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish under the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., emphasizes that the spring pygmy sunfish has been driven locally extinct in two of three springs it was known to occupy.

The fish now lives in approximately six stream miles and 1,435 acres of spring pools and associated wetlands around the Beaverdam Spring and Creek watershed. This remaining occupied habitat is at imminent risk of being destroyed by plans to build a massive automobile plant in the watershed.

“Habitat destruction pushed this little fish to the brink of extinction, and it’ll be the final nail in the coffin if the Service doesn’t protect what little habitat remains,” said Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center. “Allowing urban sprawl and manufacturing plants to degrade the spring pygmy sunfish’s unprotected pools and wetlands puts the entire species at risk.”

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.  

In January, Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. announced plans to build a massive automobile manufacturing plant just west of Huntsville and adjacent to the Beaverdam Spring and Creek complex.

Beginning as soon as 2021, the 2,400-acre site will house a plant with two manufacturing lines that will produce up to 300,000 cars annually. The plant will come with enormous amounts of new roads, buildings and parking lots. These will impact water quality and disrupt water flow to the springs where the rare fish lives. Without proper minimization and mitigation, the spring pygmy sunfish could be pushed to extinction.

“The spring pygmy sunfish’s clean springs, flowing creeks and spring-fed wetlands are precious to wildlife and people,” said Bennett. “The spring pygmy sunfish’s struggle is a warning that we need to protect these waters before it’s too late.”

The spring pygmy sunfish is a tiny fish that rarely grows more than an inch. It lives in the dense aquatic vegetation around springs in the Tennessee River Drainage. Since its discovery in 1937, the sunfish has twice been considered extinct. Industrial agriculture, urban development and impoundments have pushed the fish out of springs it historically occupied, polluting the water and altering natural flows. Attempts to reintroduce the fish to these degraded springs have failed.

Critical habitat includes areas 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 might 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