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One Kentucky Species May Come Off the Endangered List. But Another Might Be Added

U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Several federal agencies are celebrating a rare conservation success story in Kentucky.

Since 1988, the white-haired goldenrod has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The plant is only found in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. And after years of being trampled by hikers, climbers and campers, the white-haired goldenrod suffered severe habitat loss.

But now, the population has stabilized and officials are considering taking it off the endangered species list.

"It’s a great recovery success, but it’s also a good example of how different agencies have worked together,” said Michael Floyd, a fish and wildlife biologist who works out of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Frankfort office.

For the past 12 years, the U.S. Forest Service has been roping off areas of the Red River Gorge, which is in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The white-haired goldenrod often grows near overhanging rocks, and visitors often like to explore those rock shelters and use them for camping.

“So what we’ve been trying to do is correct for some of that by encouraging visitors to stay out of those rock shelters where the plant’s occurring,” said David Taylor, a forest botanist at Daniel Boone National Forest.

Only about 30 species have ever been removed once they’ve been listed as endangered or threatened — so Taylor and Floyd say de-listing the white-haired goldenrod is a big deal.

But at the same time, their agencies are considering adding another threatened Eastern Kentucky species to the list: the Kentucky arrow darter.

The arrow darter is a small fish only found in small streams in the upper Kentucky River basin. Like the white-haired goldenrod, a lot of its habitat is within the Daniel Boone National Forest. And declining water quality due to coal mining, road construction, agriculture and runoff has threatened the species.

Several federal agencies are already working together to help conserve the species, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife is considering whether to protect the arrow darter under the Endangered Species Act. If the fish is listed, it will put more stringent requirements on industries in the area, like coal mining, Floyd said.

“It wouldn’t forbid mining in certain watersheds, but it would make it much more difficult,” he said. “It would require a lot more siltation control and runoff control into the streams where it occurs. So [permitting] would be a little bit more lengthy process.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife will likely decide whether to formally list the Kentucky arrow darter as "threatened" by the end of this month, Floyd said.

Featured image: White-haired goldenrod, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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