(WAFF) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced an effort to help preserve the spring pygmy sunfish in Madison and Limestone counties.
Approximately 1,330 acres of land and 6.7 miles of streams will be designated as critical habitat for the fish, which qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The move follows a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity seeking habitat protections.
“These habitat protections will help guide the sunfish back from the brink of extinction and onto the path to recovery,” said Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center. “After watching these tenacious little fish cling to survival for decades while their springs were polluted and destroyed, it’s a relief to see them finally get the safeguards they need.”
Critical habitat for the sunfish includes parts of Beaverdam Spring and Creek, Pryor Spring and Branch, and Blackwell Swamp and Run. The Center says these areas have spring systems with the water quality, vegetation and prey the sunfish needs to survive.
While the fish currently occupies the Beaverdam and Blackwell complexes, Pryor Spring and Branch has been designated as a reintroduction site essential to the species’ eventual recovery.
"Healthy springs are important for everyone," said Bennett. "These protections will help safeguard clean water for people and secure habitat for other animals that also depend on these exceptional springs."
The Center says the new critical habitat protections may also provide incidental protection for species like the endangered slender campeloma snail and an unnamed species of salamander, which also depend on clean springs in northern Alabama.