Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 15, 2022


Margaret Townsend, (971) 717-6409,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Habitat for Tennessee’s Endangered Barrens Topminnow

MANCHESTER, Tenn.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s failure to designate critical habitat for the highly endangered Barrens topminnow, found in only a handful of streams on the Barrens Plateau in middle Tennessee.

Barrens topminnows were protected as a federally endangered species in 2019. By law the Service was required to designate critical habitat for the fish one year after listing. To date, the agency has failed to do so.

“The sparkling, iridescent Barrens topminnow is one of the most endangered fish of its kind,” said Margaret Townsend, freshwater attorney at the Center. “We need critical habitat to help protect the rivers that the Barrens topminnow call home. Without it we could lose this lovely little fish forever.”

The topminnow has been pushed to the brink of extinction by stream degradation due to nearby livestock pastures, climate change, drought, and invasive western mosquitofish. The aggressive mosquitofish outcompetes and eats topminnow eggs and young.

Today only two or three Barrens topminnow populations remain, located primarily on private lands. The tiny Barrens Topminnow National Wildlife Refuge is the only existing publicly owned refuge. Ironically, the refuge currently holds none of the fish for whom it’s named, after a flood allowed mosquitofish to circumvent a river barrier and quickly eliminate the refuge’s topminnows.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a protected species’ critical habitat. Species with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

Barrens topminnow. J.R. Shute/Conservation Fisheries, Inc. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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