Federal wildlife officials evaluating a handful of Ky. endangered species’ status
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently ordered a five-year status review for nearly 70 endangered or threatened animal and plant species across the southeast, including four native Kentucky species.
Regular evaluation of endangered or threatened species’ statuses is mandated under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, a law that one study said has helped to prevent the extinction of 99% of listed plant and animal varieties over the last five decades.
These reviews, ordered in May, will consider “the best scientific and commercial data” available regarding each species, collecting information on population trends and distribution, habitat conditions, planned or in-effect conservation measures and threats or trends associated with the listed species, among other factors.
Not all endangered or threatened species recover at the same rate, and the federal wildlife agency has reported declines for many southeastern species — some of which have been listed as endangered or threatened for decades.
All four of the Kentucky species on the list for a status review are aquatic, including one species of fish and three species of mollusks.
The Cumberland darter is a rare variety of freshwater, ray-finned fish endemic to Kentucky and Tennessee. Listed as endangered in 2011, it’s been disappearing from its native streams and can now only be found in 17 Kentucky and Tennessee waterways. Cumberland darters can mainly be found in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Wildlife officials have said that the primary threat to the Cumberland darter stems from human environmental impacts, particularly from the suspension or depositing of excess sediment in the water from activities like coal mining, natural gas development, agriculture and urban development.
The fanshell clam is a rare species of freshwater bivalve. Historically, the species was widely found throughout the Tennessee, Cumberland and Ohio River systems, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said “it has become very rare in recent years.” There are now only four viable populations of the mollusk remaining in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Officials have estimated steep declines in population, as much as 80%, over the last 100 years due to the degradation of water quality in its primary habitats, invasive species and habitat loss.
The oyster mussel is a rare freshwater bivalve native to river systems of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina.
Wildlife experts have said the biggest threat to the species – which has declined as much as 80% since the 1970s – is habitat alteration. This primarily includes the building of dams and the dredging of the waterways it calls home, as well as barriers to propagation presented by river impoundments — like dams and high waterfalls — that prevent populations from converging.
The Ring Pink mussel — also referred to as the golf stick pearly mussel — is also a rare species of freshwater mollusk. The mussels’ yellow-green to brown shells, which can be medium to large in size, feature no rays and range in shape between ovals and squares.
More recent population studies have seen the Ring Pink mussel declared likely extirpated — that’s extinct in a specific locality — in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Alabama. The remaining identified populations exist in Kentucky’s Green River, near Munfordville, and in Tennessee near the Pickwick Dam on the Tennessee River. Federal wildlife officials attribute the species’ decline to habitat loss due to impoundments. Surviving populations are under threat from channel dredging, diminished water quality and commercial mussel fishing through incidental take, among other factors.
The status of 15 Tennessee species and one Illinois native species are also being evaluated in this effort.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is collecting public comment until July 10.