Forest service withdraws logging project in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest to spare endangered fish

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ASHEVILLE, N.C.― The U.S. Forest Service this week announced it will withdraw a 2,400-acre logging project in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest following objections raised by conservation groups about harm to an endangered fish.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Blackwater submitted formal objections in July. The groups said the Big Rock Timber Project would threaten the endangered candy darter and the area’s waters.

“We appreciate the Forest Service’s decision to withdraw this misguided project,” said Jason Totoiu, a senior attorney at the Center. “Building new logging roads and clearcutting trees on extremely steep slopes would have been disastrous for wildlife, including the beautiful candy darter.”

The project would likely have caused significant erosion and sent sediment into rivers and streams, threatening the rare fish and other animals.

“Friends of Blackwater and all of our supporters are very pleased that the Monongahela National Forest supervisor has withdrawn the Big Rock Timber Project proposal,” said Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater. “Hopefully this is a step toward fully protecting the candy darter, a tiny jewel of a fish found in the timbering proposal area, near the world-famous Cranberry Glades.”

The Forest Service announcement said the project would have been the first of its kind to require formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act for the brightly colored candy darter, which was listed as endangered in November 2018. The Fish and Wildlife Service would have had to calculate how many, if any, candy darters could be killed or harmed by the proposed project. The Fish and Wildlife Service also plans to include portions of the logging project area in its final designation of the fish’s critical habitat. Those issues contributed to the decision to pull the project.

In 2010 the Center and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy petitioned to protect the candy darter. In 2018 the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as endangered following that petition and a 2015 lawsuit. The agency also proposed protecting 370 stream miles as critical habitat.

The candy darter has been lost from at least half its range and of the 18 surviving populations, only five are considered to be very healthy.

With vivid teal, orange and red coloration during the breeding season, candy darters are considered to be one of the most vibrant fishes in North America. The fish prefer shallow, fast-flowing streams with rocky bottoms. Their habitat becomes unsuitable when silt and sediment fill in the spaces between the rocks, burying the places they need for shelter and egg-laying.

Candy darters play an important role in nature because they eat caddisfly and mayfly larvae and are eaten in turn by larger fish. The species also plays an indirect role in keeping rivers clean by serving as a host for freshwater mussel reproduction, which are important filter feeders.

The 919,000-acre Monongahela is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the nation and considered to be an area of global ecological importance. From Blackwater Falls State Park to the state’s highest peak to Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, the national forest is within a day’s drive of about half of the nation’s population.

The forest is home to a diverse array of wildlife in addition to the candy darter, including wild brook trout, the pearl dace, West Virginia northern flying squirrels and federally protected Indiana and northern long-eared bats.

Article Source: Center for Biological Diversity