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Lawsuit Launched to Protect Critically Endangered Alabama Fish From Auto Plant

Development Threatens Survival of Rare Spring Pygmy Sunfish

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. Inc. and the city of Huntsville over  the construction and operation of an automobile manufacturing plant in the heart of the most important habitat for one of Alabama’s rarest fishes.

The auto plant, being built on a 2,400-acre area west of Huntsville, threatens to pollute and degrade springs, streams and wetlands that support one of only two remaining populations of the critically endangered spring pygmy sunfish.

“This massive industrial auto plant will unquestionably hurt the spring pygmy sunfish and what’s left of its natural springs,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center. “Allowing construction to go forward without carefully looking at the impacts and putting a strong conservation plan in place is playing fast and loose with Alabama’s unique natural heritage. One wrong step could wipe this lovely little fish off the face of the Earth.”

In 2018 Toyota-Mazda announced it would build a $1.6 billion automobile assembly plant on what’s known as the “Huntsville Mega Site.” The plant will include massive industrial development, including a very large factory and parking lots covering hundreds of thousands of square feet.

The threat of this type of development led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the sunfish under the Endangered Species Act in 2013, with the agency concluding that “urban development adjacent to the Beaverdam Spring/Creek system would likely fragment and directly impact suitable spring pygmy sunfish habitat by decreasing water quality and quantity.”

Despite that, construction of the facility resumed this week.  

“The construction of a sprawling industrial facility right next to one of the last places the spring sunfish lives is a serious threat to its survival and could contribute to pollution of a beautiful spring system,” said Bennett. “We need to see comprehensive and enforceable measures in place to protect this tenacious little fish before we can rest easy that it is out of harm’s way.”

Background
The spring pygmy sunfish is a small, striped fish that rarely grows larger than an inch and is known for its complex courtship “dance,” which involves fin undulations, vertical bobbing, weaving and “dashing.” Since its discovery in 1937, the spring pygmy sunfish has hovered on the brink of extinction. Habitat loss and degradation caused the small fish to completely disappear from two of three springs it was known to inhabit, leaving the Beaverdam Spring and Creek complex, and the surrounding area, as the one of the last known areas of occupied habitat.

The Center has been working to protect the spring pygmy sunfish since 2009, when it petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the fish as endangered. In response to the Center’s petition, the Service protected the sunfish in 2013. But the agency failed to protect the fish’s “critical habitat” — habitat essential to the conservation of the species. In June the Center sued the Service for violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect the sunfish’s critical habitat.

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