CHARLESTON, W.Va.— Following a petition and lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 446 stream miles of critical habitat for the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfish in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.
“These unique crawdads exist nowhere else in the world and would soon be snuffed out by destructive coal mining without these essential protections,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney at the Center. “But this isn’t charity, since our fate is bound up with the fate of the crayfish. The clean water they need to survive is the same water that local residents rely on for drinking and recreation.”
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 42 stream miles of occupied habitat and 42 stream miles of unoccupied habitat for the Guyandotte River crayfish.
In an 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.
“Since the beginning, coal mines have been wrecking the planet for wildlife and people alike,” de Jong said. “They don’t just wipe out wildlife and de-stabilize the climate, they ruin air and water quality for local residents too.”
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.