The Candy Darter, a small fish found in mountain streams in Virginia and West Virginia, was added in 2018 to the list of endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and its critical habitat area was officially designated by FWS in April, effective May 7. However, the degree to which the candy darter will receive the protection afforded it by law is now in doubt.
In a paper published in the May issue of the Highlands Voice, the publication of ABRA member West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, authored by ABRA Board member Rick Webb, it is revealed that threats to the candy darter’s existence persist because of inadequate protection practices by the U.S. Forest Service (FS), on whose land significant portions of the designated habitat for the species exists. Webb’s article, also published on the ABRA website, reviews the intended protective actions the FS intends to take toward the candy darter in one of its recently announced projects in the Monongahela National Forest (MNF) in West Virginia: he Gauley Healthy Forest Restoration Project (GHFR).
The Endangered Species Act requires the Forest Service to ensure, in consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service, that any project it undertakes is not likely to result in destruction or adverse modification of designated critical 2habitat. Timber harvest projects, such as the GHFR, pose a significant risk to aquatic habitats because they involve extensive ground disturbance on steep slopes, usually including a network of log-skidding trails, log-landing areas, and both newly constructed and reconstructed logging roads. The resulting stream sedimentation, soil damage, and hydrologic alteration can directly and indirectly degrade stream habitat. A reading of the available review documents for the proposed GHFR project suggests that MNF management intends to minimize the significance of these risks to critical habitat.
Protection of the candy darter and monitoring the GHFR are both projects that have been undertaken under ABRA’s new Conservation Hub progra. For more details on both, visit the Hub website pages by clicking here. ABRA is in dialogue with the Forest Service to assure adequate protection for the candy darter is undertaken.