Environment

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is proposing new protections for two threatened species of crayfish found in the Appalachian coalfields.

Under the new proposed rule, set to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the agency will designate 445 miles of streams in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia as “critical habitat” for the Guyandotte River crayfish and Big Sandy crayfish.

Both species have lost much of their habitat across Appalachia due to water pollution from mountaintop coal mining.

The proposal includes more than 360 miles of stream for the Big Sandy crayfish in Martin and Pike Counties, Kentucky; Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise Counties, Virginia; and McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne Counties, West Virginia.

Eighty-four miles of stream in Logan and Wyoming Counties, West Virginia, are proposed as critical habitat for the Guyandotte River crayfish. Researchers have confirmed the Guyandotte River crayfish has lost more than 90 percent of its range and is now found only in two streams in Wyoming County.

“This really is a ray of light for both of these species’ chances at survival into the future,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The environmental group took legal action against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the two crayfish species. The crayfish were protected in 2016 under the Endangered Species Act.

“This is going to create extra layers of protection for anyone who wants to go in and muck up their existing habitat, where they live today,” de Jong said. “And it’s also going to create critical tools for protecting the habitat that they will need to expand into in order to really have a long-term chance of survival as a species.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days.