Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 27, 2020


Perrin de Jong, (828) 595-1862,

Two Appalachian Coalfields Crayfish to Receive 445 Miles of Lifesaving Habitat

Rampant Coal Mining Pushed Critically Imperiled Crawdads to Brink

CHARLESTON, W. Va.— Following a petition and lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect 445 stream miles of critical habitat for the Guyandotte River crayfish and Big Sandy crayfish in the coalfields of West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

“These protections throw a lifeline to these rapidly vanishing crayfish, which are being snuffed out by coal-mining pollution,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney at the Center. “Protecting the habitat of these unique species will not only help prevent their extinction, but safeguard water quality for people too.”

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.

The endangered Guyandotte River crayfish has lost more than 90% of its range and is now found in only two streams in Wyoming County, West Virginia.

The threatened Big Sandy crayfish’s range has been reduced by more than 60%. It is found in the upper Big Sandy drainage in southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

Today’s proposed designations would protect 362 stream miles of occupied Big Sandy crayfish habitat. It would also safeguard 41 stream miles of occupied habitat and 42 stream miles of unoccupied habitat for the Guyandotte River crayfish.

In its agreement with the Center, the Service protected both Appalachian crayfish under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 because of habitat loss and water pollution, largely due to mountaintop removal and other forms of coal mining.

“Coal mines are bad for the health of every living being around them,” de Jong said. “These rare crayfish could be wiped out by the mines, which also threaten people living nearby by polluting their air and drinking water.”

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.

Big Sandy crayfish photo by Guenter Schuster. 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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