Two New Endangered Species in Kentucky

November 16, 2009

Kentucky Glade Cress

An unassuming-looking Kentucky wildflower that grows nowhere in the world but Bullitt County and Jefferson County is on track for federal designation as an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released its latest list of candidates eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and two of the top five flora and fauna eligible for candidacy because they face “immediate, identifiable threats” are in Kentucky, according to the FWS.

Glade cress, among the top five threatened species, grows in small depressions on exposed bedrock, producing tiny white flowers in the spring. If glade cress is successfully listed, protection for the plant would be mandatory for any land projects that receive federal funding, and the cress would also be protected on federal land. However, the Endangered Species Act doesn’t protect threatened or endangered plants on private property.

Rabbitsfoot Mussel

In addition to the Kentucky glade cress (Leavenworthia exigua var. laciniata) that grows in Bullitt and Jefferson counties, rabbitsfoot mussel (Quadrula cylindrica) — found in Kentucky streams — is another highly threatened candidate. The mussel is found in only 49 streams in 15 states. More than half of endangered and threatened species are found in wetlands or aquatic habitats, which are especially vulnerable to both development and environmental changes.

Blackside Dace, Endangered Species Fish in Kentucky

In other recent environmental news, a Laurel County company was fined $50,000 in mid-October for dumping pollution into a creek and killing two tiny, rare blackside dace fish. The dace, which are less than 3 inches long, are found only in streams in southeast Kentucky that feed into the Cumberland River, while another small population of dace is found in northeast Tennessee.

The federally endangered dace (Phoxinus cumberlandensis) wasn’t recognized as a species until 1975; it’s been protected since 1987. The fish lives in cool, upland streams in forests and prefers clear water — so much so that it won’t mate when water is clouded by silt. The dace is thus particularly vulnerable to coal mining activities and oil and gas drilling. Kyle Edelen, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, commented: “It’s common knowledge that there are blackside dace in that area and that it is a threatened species of fish.” He also said that changes in water color which occurred when drilling fluids were dumped in Acorn Fork during the violations could easily be seen.

As a result, Nami Resources of London, Kentucky pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court last month to violating both the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act and paid a $50,000 fine: $25,000 for violating the Clean Water Act and $25,000 for violating the Endangered Species Act. The violations occurred from May to August 2007. Bob Snow, a senior special agent with the FWS, said it was the largest Endangered Species fine he’s seen in the nine years he’s been working in Kentucky, and the first case involving prosecution for harming blackside dace.

Nami, which released a statement through its attorney, blamed the incident on independent contractors who weren’t directly supervised by the company while drilling natural gas wells. The unnamed contractors have since been dismissed, and the company says it voluntarily cleaned up the well sites.

Read more Kentucky environmental news.

Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy

Copyright © 2009

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