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Lawsuit Launched to Protect Imperiled Crayfish in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia

CHARLESTON - The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for the agency’s failure to make a listing decision on a petition to protect the Big Sandy crayfish under the Endangered Species Act. The Big Sandy crayfish has undergone a decline of up to 70 percent in the past 40 years because of water pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining. The animal may be gone from West Virginia, has lost more than half its range in Virginia, and is rare and declining in Kentucky.

“The unique Appalachian Big Sandy crayfish needs protection because water pollution is driving it to extinction,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center. “Mountaintop-removal coal mining is ruining the water — both for wildlife and for people. If we protect streams for the crayfish, then we’ll also be protecting public health and water for drinking, swimming and fishing.”

The Center and regional allies petitioned for protection for the crayfish in 2010. In 2011 the Service determined that the crayfish “may warrant” protection as an endangered species; but it has failed to make a required 12-month finding that determines whether protection is in fact warranted. The crayfish is threatened primarily by pollution from surface coal mining; it’s also hurt by proposed interstate construction in West Virginia and pollution from logging and leaking septic tanks.

The Big Sandy crayfish is known from Buchanan, Dickenson, Giles and Wise counties in Virginia, and from Logan, Mercer and Wyoming counties in West Virginia. In Kentucky it is known from Clark, Estill, Floyd and Pike counties, but could occur in more counties in the eastern part of the state.


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Pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining has been associated with increased risk of cancer and birth defects in human communities. More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by mountaintop removal, a mechanized form of mining that employs far fewer people than other kinds of mining.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered to be a “keystone” animal because the holes they dig create habitat that is used by other species. Crayfish burrows are used by more than 400 kinds of animals, including bass, catfish, frogs and small mammals. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals; they are then eaten by many other animals including fish, giant salamanders and raccoons, making them an important link in the food chain. The burrowing activity of crayfishes helps maintain healthy soil by transferring nutrients between soil layers.

The Southeast is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has already lost more than 50 freshwater animals to extinction in recent times. The Center is working to save upwards of 400 at-risk aquatic species in the Southeast.


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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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