HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over its failure to protect Alabama’s slenderclaw crayfish under the Endangered Species Act. The Center petitioned for protection of the crayfish in 2010, but the agency has failed to make a decision on its protection as required by law. The tiny crayfish now survives at only one site near Lake Guntersville.
“Crayfish may be small, but they play a big role in the wild places where they live,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Sadly the slenderclaw crayfish in Alabama is in serious trouble. If these guys are going to have a fighting chance at survival, they need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
In a newly published study, scientists surveyed 55 locations in an effort to find the crayfish, but concluded that it is now missing from the vast majority of its range and only survives at one site. Most of its habitat was flooded when the Tennessee River was dammed to create Lake Guntersville. It may also be threatened by water pollution from nutrients, bacteria and heavy metals.
“Protecting little animals like crawdads that we don’t often think about will also help protect the clean, healthy water people need,” said Curry.
The Center and allies petitioned for protection of the slenderclaw crayfish in 2010. In accordance with a multispecies agreement with the Center, the Service in 2011 determined that it “may warrant” protection. The Service will be required to make a final decision on whether the crayfish should be added to the endangered species list in response to the suit launched today.
The slenderclaw crayfish is 3 inches long and has attractive cream-and-orange mottling against its brown shell. It lives in clear, shallow, slow-flowing streams with bedrock and sandy bottoms and large boulders.
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 more than 400 other species, including bass, catfish, frogs and small mammals. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals, and they are eaten in turn by fish, giant salamanders and otters, making them an important link in the food chain. Their burrowing activity helps maintain healthy soil by transferring nutrients between soil layers.
The Southeast is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has recently lost more than 50 freshwater animals to extinction. The Center is working to save more than 400 vanishing southeastern aquatic species.
The Center’s 2011 agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 species has so far resulted in Endangered Species Act protection for 108 animals and plants and proposed protection for another 30, as well as about 6 million acres of protected wildlife habitat across the country. Several rare species from the Southeast have gained protection under the agreement including fish like the diamond darter and Cumberland dace and freshwater mussels including the sheepnose, spectaclecase, snuffbox, rayed bean, fluted kidneyshell and slabside pearlymussel.
“The Southeast has an incredibly rich natural heritage, and we need to do everything we can to keep it intact for our children and for future generations,” said Curry.