The Center for Biological Diversity said May 30 that it has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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 crayfish has been lost from up to 70% of its range because of water pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining, the center said. It is nearly gone from West Virginia and has lost close to half of its range in Kentucky and Virginia.
“The Big Sandy crayfish is only found in Appalachia, where mountaintop removal and other sources of pollution are driving it extinct,” said Tierra Curry, a center biologist. “Mountaintop-removal coal mining is ruining the water — both for wildlife and for people. If we protect streams for crayfish, we’ll also be protecting people.”
The center and regional allies petitioned to protect the crayfish in 2010. In 2011 the service determined that the crayfish “may warrant” protection as an endangered species, but it has failed to take the next required step, a 12-month finding on whether protection is warranted, the center said. The crayfish is threatened primarily by pollution from surface coal mining but also by proposed interstate construction in West Virginia and pollution from logging and leaking septic tanks, the center added.
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, the center noted.
Incidentally, environmental groups like to use the term “mountaintop-removal” to describe a coal strip mine of any major size. But many such mines, like contour jobs that work around the side of a mountain, are not technically mountaintop-removal operations.