Endangered fish's habitat receiving federal protection from settlement with Mazda-Toyota

The one-inch spring pygmy sunfish was a cause for concern after being found near the site of the $1.6 billion Mazda-Toyota plant.

Posted: Jun 5, 2019 7:21 PM
Updated: Jun 6, 2019 5:57 PM

An endangered fish's habitat is receiving federal protection as a result of the settlement with Mazda-Toyota.

The one-inch spring pygmy sunfish was a cause for concern after being found near the site of the $1.6 billion Mazda-Toyota plant.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced they're protecting over 1,000 acres of land for the spring pygmy sunfish, meaning the fish near the construction site of Mazda-Toyota won't be moving anytime soon.

David Whiteside with the Tennessee Riverkeeper said 6.7 stream miles and 1,330 acres are now federally protected for the spring pygmy sunfish.

"This increases protection, federal protection for the sunfish, and it will also help protect water quality for the people of Huntsville and North Alabama," Whiteside said.

Whiteside said, after a lawsuit was filed, Mazda-Toyota agreed to a settlement in December, donating land to focus on saving the fish. Now, even more is being done to save the endangered fish, especially in areas near the Mazda-Toyota plant.

"Beaverdam Creek is certainly habitat for the sunfish, and that is one of the areas that will be classified as a critical habitat," Whiteside said.

Effective immediately, Beaverdam Creek, Pryor Spring and Branch and Blackwell Swamp are designated as critical habitats. Pryor Spring and Branch is deemed a reintroduction site for the sunfish once the species repopulates and is no longer endangered.

These areas are critical habitats, because they have specific vegetation, water quality and prey needed for the sunfish to survive. Some people think this is too much to protect a fish.

"I'm glad they are protecting them, because every creature has a place in the world, but I also think they've gone a bit far, 1,300 acres will protect a lot of fish," Bill Eslick, who has family near the Mazda-Toyota plant, said.

These areas are overseen to make sure any activities do not destroy the habitat of the fish. Whiteside says the area could be used as a source of learning.

"Areas will have limited use to the public mainly for education, you know, science classes can go study hydrology or endangered species," Whiteside said.

Mazda-Toyota responded to the federal protection, saying they have agreed on the plan to protect and restore the habitat, while reducing long-term risks to the fish. They say plant construction is still on schedule.

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