CHARLESTON, W.Va.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky for the Guyandotte River crayfish and the Big Sandy crayfish.
The two Appalachian crayfish were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 because of habitat loss and water pollution inflicted primarily by coal mines. In January 2020, under the pressure of litigation by the Center, the Service proposed to designate 445 stream miles of critical habitat for the species. The Service is now late in finalizing the critical habitat protections that these unique, imperiled crustaceans require.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has dragged its feet every step of the way towards granting these unique crawdads protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney at the Center. “Eleven years after we first filed our petition, local residents and beleaguered crayfish are still waiting for the clean water they rely on to be protected.”
The Guyandotte River crayfish has undergone more than a 90% range reduction and is now found only in Wyoming County, West Virginia. The Big Sandy crayfish’s range has been reduced by more than 60%. It is found in the upper Guyandotte River and Bluestone River drainage of West Virginia and the upper Big Sandy drainage in southern Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to designate critical habitat for these species within one year of when they were listed, which would have been April 2017. But the agency has yet to act to protect the habitats of the two species.
Though it is already illegal to harm the crayfish, critical habitat designation adds an additional layer of protection. It requires any federally funded or permitted project to consult with the Service to make sure crayfish habitat is not harmed.
“Surface coal mines wreck land, air and watersheds,” de Jong said. “These rare crayfish are found nowhere else on earth and are in very real danger of being wiped out. The Service ought to act now to protect their homes and the drinking water supply for local residents.”
Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals. They are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web.