Feds take next step to protect fish from human development - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Feds take next step to protect fish from human development

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week it has finished an economic analysis of protecting the diamond darter, a fish threatened by human activities in West Virginia and Kentucky streams.

According to the latest news release from the USFWS, the economic impacts of designating home habitats of the diamond darter were "narrow and mostly administrative." The designation is expected to not substantially impact county governments, small business or organizations.

"Based on the best available information, including extensive discussions with stakeholders, the Service estimates that the designation will cost around $800,000 over 20 years, or about $70,000 annually. The majority of these costs are administrative and are borne by federal and state agencies, but some costs may be incurred by local governments and businesses," the USFWS stated. "These costs stem from the requirement that federal agencies consult with the Service on the impacts on critical habitat from the activities they carry out, fund or authorize."

The proposal is to establish up to 123 river miles in West Virginia and Kentucky as "critical habitat" under the Endangered Species Act. The diamond darter, under the initiative, would be considered an endangered species.

In its economic analysis, the USFWS has estimated very few changes to current development and permitting practices would be required under the designation.

"Based on discussions with State and local regulatory authorities, including West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) and Kentucky Division of Water (KYDW), land and water management practices are not expected to change due to the designation of critical habitat," the report states.

It recognizes that cost to small governments and mining industry operators in the designated regions could cost between $1,000 and $10,000 annually as a result of the designation, representing less than one percent of revenues in both cases.

The diamond darter is a freshwater fish native to West Virginia, that according to previous news releases from the USFWS, is threatened by coal mining, oil and gas development, erosion, timber harvesting and poor wastewater treatment.

"This small fish, named for its sparkling reflections, could once be found along the southern Appalachians, but years of changes from dams and channeling restricted this native fish to one stream along the Elk River in West Virginia," a July 2012 e-mail from the USFWS states. "… The designation of critical habitat is for purposes of consultation with other federal agencies."

Fewer than 50 of the fish have been collected in the last three decades and one of the main habitat areas is the Elk River in West Virginia.

"The river is one of the state's most ecologically diverse, but its waters face pervasive threats from coal mining, oil and gas development, erosion, timber harvesting and poor wastewater treatment," Deb Carter, the Service's West Virginia Field Office supervisor, said in July, when the ESA designation attempt was first announced.

The areas proposed to be designated as critical habitats include areas of Kanawha and Clay counties and Edmonson, Hart and Green counties in Kentucky. The designation would require other federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, both involved in coal mining permits, to consider protection of the species.

The full economic analysis prepared by the USFWS is available online here: http://www.fws.gov/westvirginiafieldoffice/PDF/DiamondDarterDEA2_2013%202%2027.pdf