Five crawfish species to be dropped from endangered list

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Five crawfish species found in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi are still common and have been dropped from a petition asking for them to be listed as endangered, but a sixth needs protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said yesterday.

Scientists recommended listing the slenderclaw crawfish, once found in northeastern Alabama and northwestern Georgia, as endangered because they found it at only one of 55 sites they checked. That site in Alabama’s Shoal Creek is probably the only place it still lives, Stephanie L. Kilburn of the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute wrote in the March issue of “Southeastern Naturalist.”

Five other kinds of crawfish, including two cave-dwelling species, still need study, aquatic biologist Jeff Powell of the agency’s Alabama field office said yesterday.

The Center for Biological Diversity asked the agency in 2010 to list 404 southeastern species as endangered. That list is now down to 367, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a news release yesterday.

“The average federal administrative cost to list a single species can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a price tag that will be avoided in light of this new scientific information,” the statement said. “By comparison, the cost incurred to conduct surveys and research on these crayfish totaled about $62,000. That’s a significant savings to federal taxpayers.”

The Center for Biological Diversity spokeswoman Tierra Curry said the organization also dropped requests for endangered status of the seepage salamander and the Lower Florida Keys striped mud turtle.

“We all want the same thing — to make sure than no more of the Southeast’s amazing freshwater diversity is lost to extinction,” she wrote in an email. “Protecting the little aquatic species … that people don’t often think about will also help make sure that the region’s rivers and waterways are healthy for future generations of people and wildlife.”

Blackbarred and Chattooga River crawfish are common and don’t need protection, according to Kilburn’s study of 55 sites in the Upper Mobile River Basin on the Alabama-Georgia line.

Powell said an unpublished study found three species in south Alabama and northeast Mississippi also are common. Those are the lagniappe, burrowing and least crawfish.

There are many kinds of crawfish — or, as scientists prefer, crayfish. About 420 species are North American, Powell said.

“Alabama is the most biodiverse state for crayfish. We’ve got about 90 species of crayfish that have been documented,” Powell said.

He said those left to study include three in the Tombigbee watershed straddling Alabama and Mississippi, and two cave crawfish found in north Alabama and Tennessee.

Powell said he’s often asked if there’s a difference between crawfish and crayfish.

“I always say you study crayfish and you eat crawfish,” he said.

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