Tag Archives: Tierra Curry

Two Appalachian Crayfishes Protected Under the Endangered Species Act

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responds to petition from the Center for Biological Diversity

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected two species of crayfish from Appalachia under the Endangered Species Act. The crayfishes have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining. The Big Sandy crayfish is known only from the Big Sandy River basin in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia; the Guyandotte River crayfish is known only from the Guyandotte River basin in southern West Virginia.

“Protecting these two crayfishes under the Endangered Species Act will not only ensure their survival but will also protect streams and water quality that are important for people,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center and a native of southeastern Kentucky.

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Big Sandy Crayfish.Photo by Guenter Schuster

The Center and regional allies petitioned to protect the Big Sandy crayfish as an endangered species in 2010. The newly discovered Guyandotte River crayfish, which was once thought to be the same as the Big Sandy crayfish but was recently discovered to be a new species, is now one of the most endangered crayfish in America, surviving only in a single county in West Virginia. Both crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution. The Big Sandy crayfish was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1991.

The Big Sandy crayfish is known from Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties in Virginia, and from McDowell and Mingo counties in West Virginia. In Kentucky it is known from Floyd, Johnson, Lawrence, Pike and Martin counties. The Guyandotte River crayfish was known from Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties, West Virginia, but survives only in Wyoming County. In addition to coal mining, the crayfish are threatened by construction of the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway.

Today’s listing means that federal agencies will have to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before funding or permitting any activity that could harm the animals, and it is now illegal for any person or corporation to harm the crayfishes or their habitat.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered to be a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by other species including fish. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals, and they are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web. Because the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution, they are indicator species of water quality.

cbd.circle.rgb.jpgIn 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. To date 146 species have gained protection under the agreement, and another 34 have been proposed for protection.

One of the primary threats to the crayfish is mountaintop removal coal mining. Recent scientific studies have concluded that pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining is harmful to fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and stream insects in Appalachia. Pollution from mountaintop removal is also associated with increased risk of cancer and birth defects in humans. More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by this mechanized form of mining, which employs far fewer people than other forms and perpetuates poverty by causing permanent and irreversible damage to the landscape.

Coal field residents and allies are currently promoting the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, or ACHE, a federal bill that would place a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits until the federal government has completed and evaluated studies into health disparities in the region.

© The Center for Biological Diversity, 2016. The Center is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Bat from Two West Virginia Coal Mines

Unchecked mountaintop removal coal mining continues to harm communities, endangered species in Appalachia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Center for Biological Diversity, Coal River Mountain Watch, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the Sierra Club filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for their failure to protect threatened northern long-eared bats at two proposed mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia. The mines will clear more than 1,000 acres of hardwood forest that are home to the rare bat, which was protected under the Endangered Species Act in April. The agencies have not put any specific measures in place to protect the bats from the mining activities, as required by law.

A mountaintop removal site Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

A mountaintop removal site
Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

“The failure to protect these bats is the latest example of coal companies getting a free pass in Appalachia when it comes to complying with the Endangered Species Act and other laws designed to protect the health of people and the environment,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “The wink-and-a-nod compliance with the law is having devastating effects on wildlife and human communities in Appalachia.”

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the northern long-eared bat in 2010. The species has declined by 96 percent in its core range due to a lethal disease called white-nose syndrome. Because of the drastic impact of this disease, the bat is extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction.

The bat is found at both Republic Energy’s proposed Long Ridge mine on Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County, which will clear 664 acres of forest, and Jim Justice’s Big Creek mine in McDowell County, which will destroy 468 acres of forest. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and Fish and Wildlife Service are required to ensure that mining does not jeopardize the survival of the bats.

“Federal agencies need to do a better job of protecting both the northern long-eared bat and the people who live around these mines,” said Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Mountaintop removal is destroying wildlife and human communities in Appalachia and it is time for that to end.”

“The lack of effective protections for bats and other endangered species mirrors the lack of protection for Appalachian residents from surface mining impacts,” said Dianne Bady, founder and project coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

To try to address impacts to endangered species from surface mining, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1996, resulting in a “biological opinion” that established very minimal requirements that must be met. According to today’s legal notice, the two mines in question have not established specific measures to protect northern long-eared bats as is required by that biological opinion. The groups also put the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on notice that its continued reliance on the 1996 document to avoid impacts to imperiled species is illegal. The outdated biological opinion fails to ensure the survival of the northern long-eared bat and many other species that have required the Endangered Species Act’s protection since 1996 and, that like the bat, are being affected by surface coal mining.

“Today’s notice is another example of how critical it is to have increased protections in Appalachia from surface mining,” said Liz Wiles with the West Virginia Sierra Club. “Federal agencies need to revamp protections for endangered species when it comes to surface mining, which will benefit both wildlife and people.”

Much new scientific information has been published recently documenting the devastating effects of surface coal mining in Appalachia on wildlife and people. Mining has now been linked to declines in birds, fish, salamanders, crawdads, insects and freshwater mussels. Mining threatens nearby communities with air and water pollution and risk of flooding. More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies have now linked mining pollution in Appalachia to health problems, including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects.

The proposed Big Creek mine is a case in point. In addition to destroying nearly 500 acres of native hardwood forest used by the bat, it is directly above a church and upstream of a Head Start center. It will also destroy more than five miles of streams, threatening another species that has been proposed for protection, the Big Sandy crayfish. More than one million acres of hardwood forest and more than 2,000 miles of streams have already been destroyed by surface coal mining in Appalachia.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Coal River Mountain Watch is a West Virginia nonprofit organization that works to stop the destruction of communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life of residents, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. The group is working to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE).

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is national organization dedicated to the improvement of the environment and communities through education, grassroots organizing and coalition building, leadership development, strategic litigation and media outreach.

Sierra Club is one of the oldest grassroots environmental organizations in the country with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. Sierra Club’s mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environments.”

Jim Justice Mining Operation Endangers Public Health and Ecology, Says Scientific Center

Center for Biological Diversity calls upon federal and state officials to provide greater scrutiny of mining permit approved for Justice-owned McDowell County surface mine

By Michael M. Barrick

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – Tierra Curry, the senior scientist with the Center of Biological Diversity, has written an eight-page letter to state and federal officials asking the agencies to further review the public health and environmental impact of a surface mine owned by Jim Justice, who earlier this month declared his candidacy for governor of West Virginia.

Justice, who owns the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, is a Democrat. The gubernatorial race is in 2016. He is also the subject of news coverage reporting that he has avoiding paying fines leveled against his mining operations for various environmental violations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization. The operation in question is the Big Creek surface mine in McDowell County. Last month, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a surface mining permit to Justice Low Seam Mining, Inc. for the operations. In response, Curry wrote, “Please accept these comments from the Center for Biological Diversity concerning impacts to threatened and endangered species and the environment that will result from the proposed Big Creek surface mine. …”

Curry asserts, “In terms of intensity, this permit directly affects public health and safety, harms an ecologically critical area, has highly controversial effects on the environment, will cause and contribute to cumulative impacts in this important ecological area, and directly affects endangered species and their habitat.”

She adds, “More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles have now revealed threats posed to human health by pollution from mountaintop removal coal mining includes increased incidence of cancer, birth defects, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.”

Additional Oversight Required
Hence, Curry argues that the agencies responsible for public health and environmental oversight have more work to do. In her letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Curry wrote, “We ask that you undertake further environmental review and analysis before allowing this mining project to move forward. Specifically, we ask you to consider alternatives to the mine as proposed including a no action alternative and an alternative that does not include a valley fill and that buffers and protects all streams from mining activity. We also ask that you seriously weigh these comments given the applicant’s lengthy history of environmental violations when coal mining.”

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference in April 2015 Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference in April 2015
Photo by Keely Kernan

Curry was in Charleston in April, where she was the keynote speaker at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center. Recalling that visit, she shared, “When I visited West Virginia this spring for the Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference, I got to hear spring peepers and whippoorwills and smell the flowering redbuds and trilliums. It was a heartbreaking reminder that when mining companies blast away mountains, they are not just blowing up dirt and rocks. They are blowing up the plants and animals that make the Appalachian Mountains so special, so sacred. Appalachia has more kinds of freshwater mussels, crawdads and salamanders than anywhere else in the world and yet companies are blowing up our natural heritage so that the rich can get richer and poor people can remain stuck in a boom and bust extraction economy that threatens public health and prevents economic diversification.”

Impact upon Water Quality and Habitats
In the letter, Curry notes, “The Big Creek surface mine will discharge into unnamed tributaries of Jacobs Fork, which flows into the Dry Fork of the Tug Fork on the Big Sandy River. The mine will harm more than 5 miles of currently high quality streams. The mine will impact 19 streams totaling 27,102 linear feet including, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 12, 715 feet of intermittent channel, 14,387 feet of ephemeral channel, and 0.15 acres of open water.”

She notes also, “We are writing to call your attention to required environmental documents for the mine including consultation with the USFWS on the northern long-eared bat, a conference with the USFEW on the Big Sandy crayfish, Protection and Enhancement for these two species, and an updated Wildlife Resources Lands Inquiry. We also wish to point out that the water quality impacts analyses for the mine are woefully inadequate.”

Curry notes that the surface mine would destroy 907 acres of primary hardwood habitat – home to the northern long-eared bat. “In short,” says Curry, “northern long-eared bats are interior forest dependent species and removal of 907 acres of their habitat will have significant impact upon the species.”

Big Sandy Crayfish Photo by Guenter Schuster

Big Sandy Crayfish
Photo by Guenter Schuster

The Big Sandy crayfish is also threatened by the mining operation, but as Curry points out, “None of the analyses for the mine have taken into consideration impacts that mining operations will have on the Big Sandy crayfish.” Curry states bluntly, “Both of these species will be harmed by the Big Creek surface mine and your agencies are obligated to safeguard these species from mining activities.”

History of Environmental Violations by Justice Noted
Curry also points out that the company owned by Justice has not provided proper plans to mitigate the impact of its activities. “The documents submitted with the application in no way meet these requirements. The response provided on how the mine will avoid and minimize adverse impacts is a single generic paragraph that includes no specific measures to safeguard water quality, the Big Sandy crayfish, or the capability of Jacobs Fork to continue to support trout.”

She also takes exception with claims by the company “… that downstream water chemistry is not expected to change.” Characterizing that claim as ludicrous, Curry writes, “Surface coal mining causes increased siltation and sedimentation, increased conductivity, increased total dissolved solids, and increased concentrations of pollutants including selenium, aluminum, sulfate, manganese, iron, and bicarbonate ions.”

She argues, “The inadequacy of the analysis is further evidenced in that in addition to stating that downstream water quality will not change, the analysis also says that downstream waters will receive alkaline leachate and that net alkalinity will be raised, which is an acknowledgment that downstream water quality will be changed.”

Curry continues, “Moreover, Jim Justice, the owner of Justice Low Seam Mining, Inc., has a long history of environmental violations at his mining operations including water quality violations. It was reported in July 2014 that coal mines owned by Mr. Justice have been cited for more than 250 environmental violations with unpaid penalties of about $2 million. Of note, a violation was recently issued to a Justice-owned mine by WVDEP for failure to pass runoff through sediment control. Thus, issuing a mine permit to this company, given its history of violations, is highly controversial.”

Coal Not the Future
Near the end of her letter, Curry offers, “The effects of surface coal mining on the quality of the human environment are unquestionably controversial due to the permanent and irreversible effects on the environment, the harm to human health, property damage, risk of flooding, and other factors. This mine in particular is controversial because in addition to the presence of endangered species on site, a church and a Head Start are downstream from the mine site.”

In addition to the remarks in her letter, Curry shared, “I visited with some of the families that live on the creek below the proposed Big Creek mine and I saw the Head Start center that would be at risk from flooding and pollution. People showed me their foundations and roofs that have been cracked from mine blasting and their wells that they can no longer use because the water has been contaminated. I think the people in the rest of the country don’t realize that U.S. citizens living in the coal fields do not have access to clean water. It is outrageous that here in the United States corporations are destroying people’s water and the people are so poor that they have no choice but to drink water that they know could make them and their families very sick.”

She concluded, “It is pretty obvious that blowing up mountains and dumping the waste into streams is bad for the economy, bad for public health, bad for endangered species, and bad for our children’s future; the science and economic studies are now available that unequivocally demonstrate the social, economic, environmental, and public health costs of surface coal mining. People need to stop defending the coal industry and realize that there are other paths forward economically, that there are other ways to keep the lights on, and that the billions of dollars the coal operators are amassing are never going to create a healthy economy for Appalachian communities. … There has never been a better time for people to unite and demand clean jobs, economic diversification, and a healthy environment.”

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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The Earth Under Assault

Three years after Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference, Appalachia and all of the planet is as vulnerable as ever to fossil fuel industry

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Credit: NASA

April 22, 2018 — Three years ago this morning, I was having breakfast with our daughter Lindsay in Charleston, W.Va., reflecting upon the Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference we had organized with the help of countless of others. It has broken up the day before, and we allowed ourselves an extra night int he Mountain State’s capital to visit our favorite restaurant for dinner — Leonora’s Spagetti House.

We were hopeful. Despite a steady, cold rain that morning, the outlook we took from the conference reflected that spring morning; while it was cold and rainy, the grays and browns of the West Virginia winter had finally turned green in the Kanawha Valley. Indeed, during the warm and sunny days of the conference, the 50 or so gathered often looked longingly out the window at the budding leaves gently moving from the invisible breeze.

But we stayed inside, because we were gathered for a common and critical purpose — preserving Appalachia and all of the planet. We presumed, as you will read below from the article posted shortly after the gathering, that people from all backgrounds and disciplines could and would agree that the earth is sacred because it is the source of life.

We did. However, three years later, it is clear that the fossil fuel industry has been crushing all efforts at preserving our air, land and water. EQT (Pittsburgh), Dominion (Richmond), and Duke Energy (Charlotte) have set up a nice little triangle of fossil fuel dominance in Appalachia. Since 2010, they have bought the legislators in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Federal and state regulatory agencies have ignored the law and will of the people and greased the tracks for the very companies they are supposed to hold in check.

I am saddened, but I am in awe of our allies (many mentioned below) that continue to fight the good fight to preserve Mother Earth. On this Earth Day, let us recommit ourselves to being part of that fight. — MMB

Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference

Interdisciplinary and interfaith gathering helps strengthen collaboration on environmental issues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Approximately 40 ecological preservationists joined together in Charleston at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center from April 19-21 to champion responsible environmental stewardship in the context of understanding that Appalachia – and all the earth – is sacred. Among those at the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” conference were people of faith, activists, artists, scientists, politicians, and educators.

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering was sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. In-state partners included the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (WVIPL). The Appalachian Preservation Project handled public relations, planning and logistics for the conference.

It was an intentional interdisciplinary and interfaith outreach by and to people that are devoted to preserving the eco-systems which support life in Appalachia. It brought together the region’s rich collection of seasoned, experienced preservationists. While several organizations provided speakers, the event also included numerous attendees from West Virginia and other Appalachian states determined to identify fundamental areas of agreement regarding the immediate core challenges to Appalachia’s eco-systems and key strategies for addressing them.

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The gathering concluded with a roundtable discussion of the topics discussed over the course of the conference. From those discussions, participants will issue a white paper – scheduled for release this summer. The white paper will be a unified, decisive statement identifying the core challenges threatening the people and environment of Appalachia; explaining what makes Appalachia – and all the earth – sacred; and to equip the people of Appalachia with practical, effective methods to help preserve the region’s water, air, soil, habitats and natural beauty.

The keynote speaker was Tierra Curry, the senior scientist and a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The conference kicked off with an extended trailer of the feature film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” a documentary by Keely Kernan, an award winning freelance photographer and videographer. The documentary, which Kernan is presently filming, investigates the boom and bust impacts that mono-economies based on fossil fuel extraction have on people and their local communities.

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Other speakers included Susan Hedge with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Bill Price, the organizing representative for the Sierra Club – West Virginia Chapter; Allen Johnson of Christians For The Mountains; Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Ben Townsend, a West Virginia traditional musician; Carey Jo Grace and Tuesday Taylor with Our Children, Our Future; Robin Blakeman, the Special Event and Membership Committee Organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Mike Manypenny, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; Bill Hughes, the West Virginia Community Liaison for the FracTracker Alliance; Bob Henry Baber, a widely published Appalachian poet, novelist, creative writing teacher and mosaic artist; Barbara Ann Volk, a Lewis County landowner; Liz Wiles, the chair of the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, as well as Aurora Lights and the Mountain SOL school; Lindsay Barrick, an artist and the Director of Programs at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; Mel Hoover and Rose Edington with WVIPL; Autumn Bryson, an environmental scientist; Michael Barrick, the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project and publisher of the Appalachian Chronicle; and, all of the conference attendees.

Topics addressed include Appalachia’s sacredness, climate change, water quality, the role of art and music in telling Appalachia’ story, mountaintop removal, fracking, natural gas pipeline development, child health, politics and policy. It also included times of meditation, reflection and sharing.

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking.
Photo by Keely Kernan

As the conference completed, several presenters commented on its value. Wiles shared, “The Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference was a great opportunity to re-connect with familiar faces in West Virginia’s environmental movement as well as meeting members of the faith community who are working on environmental issues in their congregations. This was a good step in bringing together all kinds of communities who care about the health of their families, their neighbors, and their local, natural environment.”

Manypenny said, “I found it very inspiring that so many came out to participate in this event, both as speakers and as advocates, in the ongoing struggle for environmental justice, our Appalachian way of life, and for our love and appreciation of nature.” Barbara Volk echoed his remarks, adding, “I found myself so inspired by the diverse group of people that are ready to shift the paradigm regarding how we affect change in this culture of waste.”

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Price added, “I’ve been thinking about how the conference will benefit the work that all of us are doing. I think that the faith community can help to convene spaces where people of various opinions and perspectives can come together to get to know each other, to figure out those common values, and to work together for a better future.” Blakeman said, “The conference was a great opportunity to network with and learn from like-minded individuals.”

Hoover offered, “This partnership demonstrates that we are at a crossroads in the Mountain State. We have always known that we must work together to address the many environmental issues impacting the people and ecology of West Virginia. This conference, by joining together people of faith with scientists, educators, artists and others, sends a clear message that cannot be ignored – we are united in purpose.”

St. John's XXIII Pastoral Center. Photo by Allen Johnson

St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center.
Photo by Allen Johnson

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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Appalachian Crayfishes Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

Crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution, making them indicators of water quality

Courtesy Article

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In response to a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to protect two species of crayfish from Appalachia under the Endangered Species Act. The crayfishes have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining. The Big Sandy crayfish is known only from the Big Sandy River basin in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia; the Guyandotte River crayfish is known only from the Guyandotte River basin in southern West Virginia.

Big Sandy Crayfish Photo by Guenter Schuster

Big Sandy Crayfish
Photo by Guenter Schuster

“This listing proposal is historic because these are the first species to be proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act because of harm caused by mountaintop-removal coal mining,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center and a native of southeastern Kentucky. “For decades coal companies have gotten away with polluting Appalachia’s water and killing its species, but it is time for the Endangered Species Act to start being enforced in Appalachia.”

The Center and regional allies petitioned to protect the Big Sandy crayfish as an endangered species in 2010, and in 2012 the Center filed a lawsuit against the Service for failing to make a legally required decision on the petition. In response to that lawsuit, the Service was required to issue a finding in April 2015, leading to the recent listing proposal.

The Big Sandy crayfish has lost more than half of its range in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. The newly discovered Guyandotte River crayfish, which was once thought to be the same as the Big Sandy crayfish but was recently discovered to be a new species, is now the most endangered crayfish in America, surviving only in a single county in West Virginia. Both crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution. The Big Sandy crayfish was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1991.

The Big Sandy crayfish is known from Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties in Virginia, and from McDowell and Mingo counties in West Virginia. In Kentucky it is known from Floyd, Johnson, Lawrence, Pike and Martin counties. The Guyandotte River crayfish was known from Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties, West Virginia, but survives only in Wyoming County. In addition to coal mining, the crayfish are threatened by construction of the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway.

The listing proposal means that federal agencies will now have to confer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before funding or permitting any activity that could harm the animals. When the listing is finalized in 12 months, it will be illegal for any person or corporation, including coal companies, to harm the crayfishes or their habitat. The Service will propose critical habitat to protect the crayfishes in the near future.

Recent scientific studies have concluded that pollution from mountaintop removal coal mining is harmful to fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and stream insects in Appalachia. Pollution from mountaintop removal is also associated with increased risk of cancer and birth defects in humans. More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by this mechanized form of mining, which employs far fewer people than other forms and perpetuates poverty by causing permanent and irreversible damage to the landscape.

“Coal mining has been destroying human and wildlife communities in Appalachia for more than 100 years,” said Curry. “By protecting streams for these crayfishes, we will also be protecting water quality for people in a region where public health has long been sacrificed to dirty coal.”
Coal field residents and allies are currently promoting the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, or ACHE, a federal bill that would place a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits until the federal government has completed and evaluated studies into health disparities in the region.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered to be a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by other species including fish. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals, and they are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web. The Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution, making them indicator species of water quality.

In 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. To date 142 species have gained protection under the agreement, and another 12 have been proposed for protection, including the two crayfishes.

Tierra Curry is the Senior Scientist and a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity where she works to gain protection for endangered species across the country. A large part of her work is trying to safeguard the salamanders, fish, crawdads and mussels in Appalachia. She will be speaking at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference in Charleston.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.