For Immediate Release, December 13, 2019

Contact:

Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950, ebennett@biologicaldiversity.org

Land Purchase Near Alabama Toyota Plant Will Preserve Habitat for Endangered Fish

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— A 500-acre land purchase announced today by an Alabama land trust is the latest in a series of steps taken in response to legal pressure to protect the habitat of the critically endangered spring pygmy sunfish.

In December 2018, the Center for Biological Diversity and Tennessee Riverkeeper reached an agreement with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. (MTMUS) to protect the habitat of the spring pygmy sunfish from an automobile factory now under construction in Huntsville.

“We’re pleased to see our agreement is yielding real conservation value for the rare spring pygmy sunfish and its freshwater habitat,” said Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center. “Ultimately, the agreement will protect more than 1,100 acres of land in its natural state, a real win for the fish and Alabamans.”

Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust announced today that it purchased approximately 497 acres of land — the Beaverdam Spring tract near the MTMUS plant — for $10 million.

In December 2018, MTMUS agreed to protect at least 1,100 acres of the Beaverdam Spring and Creek Complex where the sunfish lives and provide $6 million to conserve the species and its habitat.

This agreement was reached after the Center raised concerns in a notice of intent to sue related to the Endangered Species Act implications of the potential impact the planned factory would have on the area. The factory, now under construction, is adjacent to Beaverdam Creek west of Huntsville, which is one of only two places the spring pygmy sunfish survives.

MTMUS agreed to place $4 million in a restricted endowment fund that will provide permanent funding for future conservation projects to benefit the spring pygmy sunfish, including habitat restoration, captive propagation, genetic studies and reintroduction efforts. The other $2 million is dedicated to immediate habitat restoration and monitoring in the Beaverdam Spring and Creek watershed.

"Conserving large tracts of land is not only great for protecting waterways and wildlife habitat, but it also helps improve air quality and enhances communities,” said David Whiteside, founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper. “This is a huge victory for our environment, our economy and the people.”

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

The Center petitioned to protect the spring pygmy sunfish under the Endangered Species Act in 2009, and sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018 for failing to protect critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish under the Endangered Species Act. In May, the Service announced that it will protect 1,330 acres and 6.7 stream miles of critical habitat for the federally threatened spring pygmy sunfish.

“The spring pygmy sunfish is disappearing because its freshwater habitat was polluted and destroyed,” Bennett said. “Conserving their last remaining springs, wetlands, and streams is crucial.”

Spring pygmy sunfish
Spring pygmy sunfish. 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.