Thirty-four years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service classified the Nashville crayfish as endangered. But now, the agency wants to remove the species from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, permanently stripping all of the unique freshwater crustacean’s Endangered Species Act protections while potentially harming its habitat.
“The factors which led to its listing—an extremely limited geographic range suffering from water quality deterioration due to extensive and growing development—remain just as relevant today as three decades ago,” wrote Associate Attorney Chelsea Bowling in a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year.
The Nashville crayfish is found only within the 27-mile natural refuge of Mill Creek and its tributaries on the edge of the most populous, and fastest-growing, city in the state of Tennessee.
Continues Bowling in her letter, “It was initially listed as endangered because of a basic fact of its existence: it is a little animal, living in one little watershed, right next to a very big city.”
“It was initially listed as endangered because of a basic fact of its existence: it is a little animal, living in one little watershed, right next to a very big city.”
—Chelsea Bowling, Associate Attorney
The Nashville crayfish’s range is highly restricted. Because it has so little room for retreat, any threats to that range are disproportionately detrimental to the species’ chance of survival.
“If anything, threats to the species are increasing,” says Nashville Office Director Amanda Garcia. She notes increasing development of the city’s metro area and a climate change-caused increase in extreme weather events that could further damage the species’ habitat, such as more frequent and severe droughts and floods.
Likewise, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s attempt to remove protections for the crayfish under the Endangered Species Act could jeopardize not only the crustacean, but the entire area surrounding Mill Creek, which flows into the Cumberland River.
“For the past three decades, this special Nashville place has been protected from irresponsible development in part due to protections for the crayfish, protections that would be removed under this proposed delisting,” reiterates Garcia.
To justify delisting a species, the Service generally shows two things: First, the species’ population must have increased to, or at least stabilized at, a size where the threat of a catastrophic event—such as a toxic spill—is reasonably mitigated. And second, sufficient mechanisms in place, or enough overall habitat improvement, to ensure that removing the species from the Endangered Species Act’s protection wouldn’t immediately drive the species back to the brink of extinction.
The Service has not met its burden with respect to either showing.