Possible endangered designation for cave-dwelling species could affect Perryville's economic growth

Sunday, October 28, 2012
The Grotto sculpin is a cave dwelling fish believed to be found only in Perry County, Mo. Is is under consideration to be added to the endangered species list.

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- A tiny cave-dwelling fish could have a big effect in Perry County if it is added to the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect its habitat.

A public meeting will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Higher Education Center in Perryville, where U.S. Fish and Wildlife representatives will present plans to add the Grotto sculpin to the list and designate its critical habitat for protection.

This two-and-a-half inch species lives only in five cave systems in Perry County, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the Grotto sculpin as a potential endangered species in 2002 because of a threat posed by the decline in water quality in the cave systems in which it lives.

Biologists documented two mass die-offs in the cave systems in the past decade because of pollution from a single source entering groundwater, according to the service.

To protect the species, federal regulators want to designate 36 square miles of underground aquatic habitat and 19 miles of surface stream in Perry County as critical habitat for the Grotto sculpin, said Shauna Marquardt, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Columbia, Mo.

"The public meeting, is a proactive effort on the service's part to provide information to local citizens during the public comment period while they are able to provide input," she said.

The public comment period extends through Nov. 26.

Perryville officials are concerned about how establishing a critical habitat area may affect economic development, especially since a portion of the proposed habitat area includes the Perryville Industrial Park, home to TG Missouri and other industries providing hundreds of jobs.

Most of Perryville and its rural surroundings are included in the proposed critical habitat area, said Perryville City Manager Brent Buerck.

"As best I understand it, anything that either receives federal money or requires federal approval would have a second layer of review," Buerck said. "Projects may be required to add additional safeguards beyond what is already required by law to protect this fish or its habitat."

This could add costs -- for new businesses looking to locate there or existing businesses wanting to expand -- if federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or other federal agencies are involved.

Other management practices, such as adding vegetated buffers around sinkholes to reduce contamination of the cave streams, could be required.

About 89 percent of the proposed habitat area property is privately held. The other 11 percent is owned by local government.

"This process is not meant to change the way of life or how people operate their business or agricultural practices. [We are] coming in to hopefully develop a partnership with the citizens and figure out the best way to move forward for everybody," Marquardt said.

Next week's meeting and the ongoing public comment period are first in a series of steps required to enact the wildlife service's plans.

The agency will be required to address each comment it received, which Marquardt said will take a significant amount of time.

"At that point, we will make revisions and incorporate what seems to be appropriate and make sure we have adequately addressed major concerns, any data gaps, anything that needs to be clarified," she said.

The agency also will conduct an economic analysis, which will consider the impact a habitat designation would have on activities above ground. This study eventually will be posted for public comments.

"What the final direction and product is, we don't know at this point because we don't know what the public comments will be," Marquardt said.

The proposal also is subject to scientific peer review.

A recent Missouri species added to the endangered species list was the Ozark Hellbender, added within the last year. This two-foot long salamander also is a cave-dwelling species.

Species found in -- but not limited to -- Perry County already on the endangered list are the Indiana bat, Least tern, and Pallid sturgeon.

More information can be found at www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

108 South Progress Drive, Perryville, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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