Commonwealth Journal

Local News

February 12, 2014

Lawmakers angle with U.S. Fish & Wildlife to expedite darter study

Washington, D.C. —

The director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has committed to cut in more than half the time his agency has to write a Biological Opinion on how to protect federally endangered duskytail darters and get the issue out of the way of normal operation levels for Lake Cumberland.
Daniel M. Ashe met Tuesday in Senator Mitch McConnell’s leadership office in Washington, D.C. with Senators McConnell and Rand Paul, both of Kentucky, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, and Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville. They discussed presence of duskytail darters in the Big South Fork River that flows into Lake Cumberland and the minnow’s effects on the lake level.
The Corps announced January 29 that Lake Cumberland will be at the 705-feet level this summer, same as last summer, and 18 feet below pool stage. The reason is to protect the duskytail darter, a species on the Endangered Species List. Apparently the 2 1/2-inch-long minnows moved into a five-mile stretch of the Big South Fork River while the lake was low. Now, environmentalist say raising the lake level might drown the slow-swimming minnows that like flowing water and rocky riffles.
Robert Steurer, McConnell’s press secretary, said out of the meeting Tuesday came a commitment from Ashe for a 60-day turnaround in preparing a Biological Opinion in response to a Biological Assessment prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Biological Assessment was presented Friday to the Kentucky Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 Lee Andrews, field supervisor for the Kentucky office, said earlier the Service has 135 days (see related story) to complete consultations and write the Biological Opinion. The outcome of that formal consultation process will determine the way forward, the Corps said.
Steurer also quoted Ashe as saying he would talk to the regional office of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see if the Biological Opinion could be implemented faster to accommodate the upcoming fishing tournament season this March and April.

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