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Threatened Appalachian Critters Make Top 10 List

January 19, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Appalachian areas flattened by mountaintop removal are home to two critters listed in a new report from the Endangered Species Coalition which includes 10 species in jeopardy because of fossil-fuel development.

The Kentucky arrow darter and tan riffleshell mussel made the list because mining pollutes the water where the animals live. Wildlife biologist Dr. Jan Randall, a fellow at the California Academy of Science, is a member of the scientific advisory board that selected the ten species most imperiled.

"Coal, all the oil exploration, development, transportation, the spills, and now there's the shale oil, and then you get into the fracking. We're paying a huge environmental cost."

According to the report, the riffleshell mussel also is impacted by mine drainage and coal ash leaks. The coal industry has sharply attacked environmental regulations intended to protect water quality, saying the rules value animals more than jobs for people. But Randall says the same things that hurt these animals could be threatening human health.

Making sure species are not wiped out is not just in the best interest of the animals and plants, Randall says, explaining that every plant and animal plays a role in a healthy environment.

"Biodiversity is the basis of a stable environment, a stable community, because everything's interconnected - and I don't think people understand this."

Plants, birds and fish from around the nation are listed in the report, including a type of flower which only grows on oil-shale land in Utah. Randall says the report cites leaking pipelines and the Gulf oil disaster as examples where species have been devastated.

"Fossil fuel exploration and extraction - it's just so pervasive, and I'm afraid a lot of people think that if it's in the ground we have to get it out, and you have to think of the alternatives."

The full report, "Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink," is online at fuelingextinction.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV