The Kentucky arrow darter is literally being blown up and buried for cheap coal. The darter is a handsome brightly colored fish that is found in only six counties in the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Kentucky. Unfortunately for this newly discovered species, its entire range is within an area that is being devastated by mountaintop removal coal mining. Mountaintop removal is a radical form of mining where coal companies dynamite the tops off of mountains and then dump the waste directly into nearby streams, permanently filling in the stream and poisoning downstream wildlife. More than 2,000 miles of streams and 500 mountains have already been destroyed. The pollution from mountaintop removal is toxic for aquatic animals and has been linked to cancer and birth defects in humans. In some counties in eastern Kentucky, nearly one-quarter of the total land area of the county is under open permit for surface mining.
Coal mining has already extirpated the Kentucky arrow darter from more than half of its range. It is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act, but this status does not provide real protection for the fish or its habitat. The headwater streams that are home to the Kentucky arrow darter are biologically rich and are a source of drinking water for people.
Darters are exceptionally interesting fish. During the mating season male arrow darters become showy, and change from pale yellow and green to bright colors with blue, green, orange and scarlet spots and stripes. They undergo elaborate courtship rituals involving dashing, nudging and quivering. Parental care is generally rare in fish, but male darters establish territories and then defend their nests until the eggs have hatched.
The Environmental Protection Agency has recently taken some steps to attempt to reduce water quality degradation caused by mountaintop removal in Appalachia, but the agency’s efforts to curb the practice are under political attack in Washington. The coal industry and their politicians claim that mining is essential to the economy of Kentucky, but the bleak reality is that the counties with the most mining remain among the poorest counties in the nation. The highly mechanized mining employs few people and keeps the region locked in poverty. Mountaintop removal caused the loss of thousands of mining jobs and prevents a sustainable economy from developing. Mountaintop removal threatens the survival of the Kentucky arrow darter as well as the health and culture of mountain communities.
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About the Endangered SPECIES COALITION
The Endangered Species Coalition’s mission is to stop the human-caused extinction of our nation’s at-risk species, to protect and restore their habitats, and to guide these fragile populations along the road to recovery.