In February, 2020, The Highlands Voice had a story about the proposal by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the Big Sandy crayfish (Cambarus callainus) and the Guyandotte River crayfish (Cambarus veteranus).
The Big Sandy crayfish is federally listed as a threatened species and currently lives in specific watersheds of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The Guyandotte River crayfish is federally listed as an endangered species and currently lives in specific portions of two streams in West Virginia.
The critical habitat rule proposed to designate a total of 362 stream miles as occupied critical habitat for the Big Sandy crayfish in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. These streams are located in Martin and Pike counties, Kentucky; Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise counties, Virginia; and McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne counties, West Virginia. For the Guyandotte River crayfish, the critical habitat rule also proposes to designate approximately 41 stream miles as occupied critical habitat in Wyoming County, West Virginia, and 42 stream miles as unoccupied critical habitat in Logan County, West Virginia.
Because the Big Sandy Crayfish and the Guyandotte Crayfish are protected under the Endangered Species Act, it would already be unlawful to kill them with or without this designation. This designation of critical habitat would mean that a federal agency may not undertake, fund, or allow activity that would destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. If, for example, if a proposed mine or other activity were in the vicinity of a critical habitat, any agency considering issuing a permit would have to avoid adversely modifying the habitat. When faced with possible habitat destruction, the agency involved would be required to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service about the actions they are considering carrying out, funding, or authorizing.
Since then, there has been one development. The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has joined in with several other groups in making comments in support of the proposed rule. Prepared with the help of the Center for Biological Diversity, the comments contained extensive technical information that would support the rule. The main message of the comments was, “Way to go, Fish and Wildlife Service! We’re with you on this one!”