The Logperch Veto

The Roanoke logperch

Virginia has its very own snail darter — the Roanoke logperch, a threatened species of fish, the existence of which could delay or even obstruct a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project.

The snail darter became a cause celebre for endangered species in 1973 when concerns arose that the habitat of the endangered fish would be obliterated by construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River. Although the dam ultimately was built, the controversy over the snail darter’s fate held up the project through years of legal appeals and eventually required a literal act of Congress to override a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The Roanoke logperch is one of six endangered or threatened species whose habitat will be crossed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The ACP won’t obliterate the habitats of the logperch, the Indiana bat, the Northern long-eared bat, the Madison Cave isopod, the rusty patched bumblebee, or the clubshell mussel in the way that the Tellico Dam did the homeland of the snail darter. But the pipeline will cross these species’ habitats, subjecting them to additional stress, and perhaps killing some individuals. A federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had set unacceptably vague criteria for monitoring and complying with the Endangered Species Act. Pipeline foes regard the threat to the species as sufficient grounds to shut down construction.

A question unasked by the media in coverage of the ruling is just how threatened are these species? What impact might pipeline construction have on their habitat? Could the pipeline precipitate their extinction or will the effect be marginal? But alert reader D.J. Rippert raised the issue in a comment to an earlier article on the topic. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCM) Red List, he wrote, “the Roanoke Logperch is one notch above endangered. The key question is whether the pipeline would push it from vulnerable to endangered.”

Good point, Don. Let’s see what IUCM has to say about the six species in question. But first some nomenclature: A “vulnerable” species is one that is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve. The next steps up the ladder towards extinction are a “endangered” and then “critically endangered.” The term “threatened” applies to any species “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Roanoke logperch. Precina Rex is listed as “vulnerable.” Its range extends through the upper Roanoke, upper Dan, and upper Chowan river systems. Eight populations are separated by wide river gaps or dams. The fish resides in riffles, runs, and pools with sandy to boulder-strewn bottoms. Despite the ongoing threats of urbanization, industrial development, flood control projects, and agricultural runoff, the population is believed to be increasing. However, siltation from agricultural “and other human activities” remains a concern.

Indiana bat. Myotis soldalis is listed as “near threatened.” The bat has an extensive range across the eastern United States but the range and population have shrunk in recent years.  The most significant threats to the species are habitat loss, forest fragmentation, winter disturbance and environmental contaminants. Half the bats are believed to hibernate in Indiana (hence the name); other major population centers are located in Kentucky and Missouri. Virginia is a minor and peripheral part of the bat’s range.

Madison cave isopod. Antrolana lira is classified as “vulnerable.” This tiny critter is an eyeless, unpigmented freshwater crustacean that lives in flooded limestone caves in the northern Shenandoah Valley, with documented population centers around Staunton and Harrisonburg. The ICUN database contains little information about the isopod. Contamination of underground water is the major threat to the creature’s habitat — definitely an issue in the karst terrain in Virginia mountain terrain.

Rusty patched bumble bee. IUCM does not have this species of bumble bee in its database. But Fish & Wildlife does refer to it as “endangered.” “Rusty patched bumble bees once occupied grasslands and tall grass prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but most grasslands and prairies have been lost, degraded, or fragmented by conversion to other uses,” states the endangered species website. The range has constricted to 13 states, of which Virginia is one, plus one Canadian province. The biggest threat comes from intensive farming and the use of pesticides.

Clubshell mussel. Also not included in the IUCM database, the clubshell mussel is described by Fish & Wildlife as an “endangered” species. The bivalve, which lives in small to medium rivers and streams, once was found from Michigan to Alabama, Illinois to West Virginia — Virginia does not warrant mention as part of its range — and now is relegated to “portions of only 13 streams.” The major threats listed are pollution from agricultural run-off, industrial wastes, and extensive impoundments for navigation, all compounded by competition with the Zebra mussel.

Northern long-eared bat. The Northern long-eared bat does not appear in the IUCN’s red list but it is listed as “threatened” by Fish & Wildlife. The bat’s range extends throughout most of the Eastern U.S. and parts of Canada. Its population decline has been caused by the “white-nosed syndrome,” a fungal disease. The disease has spread to bats in Virginia.

Bacon’s bottom line: This is a superficial survey, and I welcome the input of anyone who has more detailed and authoritative knowledge. But it seems reasonable to draw several conclusions.

First, none of these species are “critically endangered.” Only two are listed as “endangered.” The other four are classified as “threatened” or “vulnerable.”

Second, the habitat of four of these species — the bats, bees and mussels — extend far beyond Virginia. Indeed, Virginia accounts for only a sliver of the habitat for these four animals. The range of only two of the species — the Roanoke perch and the Madison cave isopod — are confined all or mostly to Virginia.

Third, it is hard to see how sedimentation from pipeline construction runoff would pose to either variety of bat or to bees threatened by pesticides and the loss of prairie habitat.

A deterioration in water quality could create problems for the logperch, the isopod, and the clubshell mussel. However, the mussel is indigenous to many other states, and it strikes me as a stretch to suggest that pipeline construction would have a measurable impact on its overall numbers. Construction runoff could be an issue for the vitality of the logperch and isopod, but it’s hard to gauge the level of risk without knowing more about the precise location of their habitats in relation to the pipeline route. If there is a genuine threat, it seems reasonable to require the ACP to take significant precautions to protect those two species. But is that grounds to shut down the pipeline? Readers, please weigh in.

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9 responses to “The Logperch Veto

  1. I am not an affectionato of the ESA as currently formulated …it’s as asinine as the bogus justification for the pipeline itself so perhaps there is some perverse justice in play.

    Dominion is actually planning on wantonly wasting the gas on 24/7 baseload instead of using it just to provide power when solar is not producing.

    So no.. there are no legitimate endangered species issue – but then again there is no real “need” for the pipeline either so perhaps poetic justice?

  2. Dominion can take my logperch when they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

  3. Needless to say the Snail Darter is now extinct.

    Huh? What?!? Not even endangered anymore?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snail_darter

    “On August 12, 1973, University of Tennessee biologist and professor David Etnier discovered the snail darter in the Little Tennessee River while doing research related to a lawsuit involving the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The lawsuit stated that the Tellico Reservoir, to be created by Tellico Dam, would alter the habitat of the river to the point of wiping out the snail darter.”

    “In 1980, additional populations of snail darters were discovered in South Chickamauga Creek in Chattanooga, the lower portion of Big Sewee Creek in Meigs County, the lower Sequatchie River in Marion County, Little River in Blount County, and the lower portion of Paint Rock River in Madison County, Alabama. These discoveries indicated the snail darter’s possible range as being from the lower reaches of major tributaries of the Tennessee River from the northward bend in Alabama upstream; the snail darter was reclassified from endangered to threatened in July 1984.”

    Hey Larry … scientists were wrong? There were more Snail Darters elsewhere? But, but, but … it’s science. When 99% of scientists see a Snail Darter apocalypse then you can damn well bet on a Snail Darter apocalypse, right?

    When I was out fishing last weekend I saw a polar bear doing the backstroke in the Chesapeake Bay. I guess its iceberg melted.

    OK, OK … before you go ballistic – I agree with the global warming theory and the need to cut CO2 and other noxious gas emissions. I also believe that even the majority of scientists can be wrong.

  4. please remove trouble pasting

  5. “Is this scuffle about water and the woods and streams and wildlife of Virginia or is it about resources? Where are the resources to assure that both federal and Virginia’s laws are maintained … the laws that keep corporate interests from devaluing what belongs to the people” … as one environmentalist has said,

    Here’s one reason why I think the pipeline projects are not doable by our government overseers who enforce our natural resources with minimal regulatory resources …
    Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act originally issued in 1992…

    In Virginia, a 1998 statute directs DEQ to develop a list of impaired waters, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or TMDL alternative for each impairment, and implementation plans for these TMDLs. Then “on December 5, 2013, EPA announced a new collaborative framework for implementing the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 303(d) program with states.”

    Here is where VA stands according to the 2016 statewide water quality biennial report. Looks like the state has lots of work to do and closing coal electricity will put a stop to increased fish toxicity, the most prevalent reason for impairments. Time to plan for offshore wind and onsite solar with storage.

    Improvements since the 2014 IR, shown as percent change, are underlined RIVERS Lakes Estuaries
    (mi) (acres) (sq mi)
    Impaired (% total) 15,713 (16%) 93,508 (80%) 2,132 (75%)
    Percent change from 2014 0.2% -1.3% -0.2%

    Non-Impaired (% total) 7,177 (7%) 20,318 (17%) 315 (11%)
    Percent change from 2014 10.2% 4.2% 1.6%

    Not Assessed (% total) 78,086 (77%) 3,373 (3%) 400 (14%)
    Percent change from 2014 -0.9% 12.0%* 2.5%

    TOTAL 100,976 117,200 2,848

    *Includes waterbodies that have been previously assessed but don’t have data in the current assessment window.

  6. “Is this scuffle about water and the woods and streams and wildlife of Virginia or is it about resources? Where are the resources to assure that both federal and Virginia’s laws are maintained … the laws that keep corporate interests from devaluing what belongs to the people” … as one environmentalist has said,

    Here’s one reason why I think the pipeline projects are not doable by our government overseers who enforce our natural resources with minimal regulatory resources …
    Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act originally issued in 1992…

    In Virginia, a 1998 statute directs DEQ to develop a list of impaired waters, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or TMDL alternative for each impairment, and implementation plans for these TMDLs. Then “on December 5, 2013, EPA announced a new collaborative framework for implementing the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 303(d) program with states.”

    Here is where VA stands according to the 2016 statewide water quality biennial report. Looks like the state has lots of work to do and closing coal electricity will put a stop to increased fish toxicity, the most prevalent reason for impairments. Time to plan for offshore wind and onsite solar with storage.

    Improvements since the 2014 IR, shown as percent change, are underlined
    RIVERS Lakes Estuaries
    (mi) (acres) (sq mi)
    Impaired (% total) 15,713 (16%) 93,508 (80%) 2,132 (75%)
    Percent change from 2014 0.2% -1.3% -0.2%

    Non-Impaired (% total) 7,177 (7%) 20,318 (17%) 315 (11%)
    Percent change from 2014 10.2% 4.2% 1.6%

    Not Assessed (% total) 78,086 (77%) 3,373 (3%) 400 (14%)
    Percent change from 2014 -0.9% 12.0%* 2.5%

    TOTAL 100,976 117,200 2,848

    *Includes water bodies that have been previously assessed but don’t have data in the current assessment window.

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