In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and fisheries biologist Mike Sandel, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected Alabama’s spring pygmy sunfish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also said it will finalize a proposed designation of eight stream miles and 1,617 acres of protected critical habitat in Limestone County, Ala. in the near future. The spring pygmy sunfish survives only in Beaverdam Creek, where it continues to be threatened by urban sprawl from metropolitan Huntsville, poor agricultural practices and loss of streamside vegetation.
“The spring pygmy sunfish is only found on one place on Earth,” said Mike Sandel, a fisheries scientist who has done the primary research on the species. “And that one place is severely threatened by urban sprawl, pollution and poor management.”
Discovered in 1937, the sunfish was twice presumed extinct during the 70 years it has been known to science. It is limited primarily to headwater springs and historically occurred in three small disjunct spring complexes (Cave, Pryor and Beaverdam springs) separated by up to 65 miles. Two of the three populations have disappeared. The Cave Springs population was extirpated in 1938 due to inundation by the formation of Pickwick Reservoir; the Pryor Springs population disappeared by the late 1960s, most likely due to dredging and chemical contamination. The single remaining native population occupies just five river miles of the Beaverdam Springs complex. Critical habitat was proposed both on Beaverdam Springs and Beaverdam Creek, where the species survives, and on the Pryor Spring complex.
“The Endangered Species Act is the last hope for the spring pygmy sunfish,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center. “Hundreds of freshwater species in Alabama and the Southeast are staring extinction in the face. Without help we risk losing species like the spring pygmy sunfish forever.”
Protection of the sunfish was made in accordance with a 2011 settlement with the Center requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service to make protection decisions on 757 plants and animals, including hundreds in the Southeast. More....