Call this the story of the one that got away – not by wiggling out of a net or snapping a line, but by prospering.
Scientists recently proposed that Ouachita madtom, a whiskery fish found in Arkansas, be removed from a petition that had called for its protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity seven years ago proposed that the fish be protected. It said recently it would remove that fish and 16 others species it had sought to be protected.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) recently removed them from its work plan – proof that the species are doing far better than originally thought.
The species’ removal is but the latest indication that scores of plants and animals across the Southeast are maintaining – and, in some cases, thriving.
In the past five years, the Service has discovered that 95 species – fish, wildlife and plants – don’t need the federal act’s protection. In addition, the populations of 13 species have so improved that they’re now classified as threatened rather than endangered. Some including the Louisiana black bear have stepped off the list fully recovered.
In the latest decision, the recommendations grew from two meetings – one that reviewed the status of 10 plants, the other focusing on animals.
Last fall, the Southeast Partners in Plant Conservation, a group comprising specialists from a handful of southern states, took a hard look at the 10 plants. Biologists in the National Fisheries Council reviewed the remaining animal species.
Their recommendations: The 17 species were okay, and didn’t need federal protection. The Service concurred, happily.
“Withdrawal of species from the petition reduces the Service’s workload and frees up resources for higher-priority species,” said Mike Harris, the At-Risk Species Coordinator for the Service’s Southeast Region.
Striking the species from the petition means good things can happen when agencies share their expertise, said Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, Vice President of Science and Conservation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The garden hosted the SePPCon meeting.
“It just goes to show how important it is to bring everyone together in one place to build our conservation network, share information and set priorities,” she said. “I think this network will continue to grow.”
Jon Ambrose, of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, shares his opinion.
‘It’s a good thing,” said Ambrose, who heads the department’s Nongame Conservation Section. “It’s an encouraging sign that we can work together and get an actual picture of the status of these species.”
The species range from finned to leafy, beginning with Ouachita madtom. Only scientists call it that. Nearly everyone else calls it by a more universal moniker: catfish.
It’s more kitten than cat. The Ouachita madtom doesn’t reach 3 inches in length. It’s found only in the upper forks of the Arkansas’ Saline River.
Other species removed from the petition are three types of freshwater mussels – the Apalachicola floater, warrior pigtoe and Savanna Lilliput.
In addition, the Saline burrowing crayfish and the Succarnoochee River crayfish no longer are on the petition.
Rounding out the animal species is the one-toed Amphiuma. True to its name, this amphibian, found from Georgia to Mississippi, has but one toe on each foot. They aren’t big: One longer than 8 inches is a bragging-size find.
The plants removed from the petition are narrowleaf Carolina scalystem, bighorn hornwort, gorge leafy liverwort, Cumberland reed grass, bear tupelo, west Florida cow lily, variable leaf Indian plantain, southern racemose goldenrod, Piedmont barren strawberry and Sharp’s leafy liverwort.