The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken legal action against the city of Birmingham, Alabama for the accidental deaths of nearly 12,000 endangered fish. In 2008 spring pools containing over ten thousand watercress darters were drained, which resulted in the deaths of about half the world’s largest population of the very rare fish.
Maintenance workers removed a beaver dam back in 2008. In doing so they also unknowingly broke through an earthen dam under the beaver dam, which caused a natural spring pool to rapidly drain. The pool lost so much water many watercress darters were stranded and left to die along with the drying aquatic plants. Reportedly the pond was drained because it sometimes overflowed and flooded a nearby tennis court.
The only populations of the watercress darter in the entire world are found in the Birmingham area. They live in a tiny area and are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Watercress darters are only about 2.5 inches long when mature, and are colorful. Their natural predators are sunfish, bluegill and sculpin.
The Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources also has made a case against the city for the fish deaths. Their claim is for just over one million dollars, and includes a fine for the killing of about two million protected snails.
Sometimes these situations when government workers make such errors result from the lack of communication between various agencies. In other words, it is possible the city workers were not aware of the presence of the endangered fish. It is also possible they were unaware of how severe fines can be for violations of the Endangered Species Act.
Image Credit: USFWS