By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes seriously the concerns of environmentalists that two East Tennessee mines are a threat to endangered fish, a spokesman says.
The Sierra Club and several other groups claim in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that Fish and Wildlife did not use the most up-to-date science when it agreed to allow surface mining at Zeb Mountain and Davis Creek. They say two endangered fish are threatened by the mining work because the runoff water from the sites is high in dissolved salts, making nearby streams too salty for the blackside dace and Cumberland darter to survive.
“We take very seriously our duty to protect endangered species, and we will look at all aspects of this lawsuit to ensure the best protection for the species involved,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Tom MacKenzie said in a phone interview from his Atlanta office. He said the service’s legal advisers will prepare an appropriate response to the suit.
A coalition of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit claiming federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unlawfully approved surface mining on Tennessee mountains, according to The Tennessean. The Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and others sued the agencies in U.S. District Court in Nashville for not considering how pollution from the mining would impact endangered fish — in particular, the blackside dace and Cumberland darter.
“Extinction of endangered species is too high a price to pay for surface mining,” said the Sierra Club’s Mary Anne Hitt. “Mining pollution from these sites clearly poses a risk to the dace and darter; these permits should have never been allowed to go forward.”
The fish use the creeks downstream of Zeb Mountain and David Creek, both outside of Knoxville (Note: They’re in in Campbell County.). The fish have been dwindling in numbers for years.
Extinction of the fish, the lawsuit says, could harm the area’s entire ecosystem. Citing violations of the Endangered Species Act, the groups contend federal officials have leaned on outdated safety research when approving mining permits.
In our state’s most populous county, Shelby, Republican-controlled redistricting this year left legislative Democratic incumbents — one black, one white — to run against each other in two state House districts. In both cases, the black incumbent won on Aug. 2.
As Otis Sanford observed in a recent Commercial Appeal column, this has left white Democratic state legislators an endangered species in the Memphis area. There’s only one now — Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, who was left by redistricting to run in the Democratic primary against an incumbent colleague, Sen. Beverley Marrero, who is also white.
White Democrats are otherwise endangered in Legislatorland, not because of competition with black Democrats, but because of competition with white Republicans. Or noncompetition in some cases, as with the retirement of Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, who will be replaced by a white Republican since no Democrat of any race, creed or color ran for his seat.
There’s at least a chance that, after the November election, there will be no white Democratic state representative representing any county in East Tennessee and only one senator — Charlotte Burks, who lives in Middle Tennessee’s Putnam County but who also represents Cumberland County after redistricting.
Otis Sanford has some observations – from himself and others – on ” the near-complete demise of white, moderate-to-liberal Democrats from Memphis in the Tennessee legislature” as illustrated by the Aug. 2 primary elections.
As a side note, it’s fair to say that white Democrats are disappearing elsewhere – though not because of a voter preference for black candidates. Consider, for starters, the retirement of Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, with no Democrat on the ballot to succeed him in November. Republicans are also sure to be targeting the seat vacated by Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, and appear to have an edge, thanks to redistricting, in the Senate District 10 seat vacated by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga.
An excerpt from Sanford’s column:
Thanks to Republican-led state legislative redistricting this year, white Democratic Reps. Mike Kernell and Jeanne Richardson were forced into the same districts with African-American incumbent Reps. G.A. Hardaway and John DeBerry. Kernell and Richardson both lost.
And in a forced state Senate race between incumbent Democrats Beverly Marrero and Jim Kyle, Marrero lost. Which means that when the next Tennessee General Assembly convenes in January, every Democratic House member from Memphis will be African-American, and Kyle will be the only white Memphis Democrat in the Senate.
It is a watershed moment in local politics. And in a broader sense, it reflects the changing demographics of Memphis and the ever-growing racial polarization of the electorate in the county. In other words, what some people have been saying for years is now virtually true — in Shelby County, Democrat and Republican are mere code words for black and white.
“It does seem that liberal white Democrats are an endangered species,” said longtime Memphis Democrat Mike Cody. “The (political) game has been taken away from them on the state level.”
What Cody and others who agree with him mean by that is that population shifts in Memphis and the GOP-controlled legislative redistricting have created a scenario where it will be extremely difficult for a white Democrat — other than Kyle for the moment — to get elected to House and Senate seats.
One of the few known patches of Cumberland rosinweed, an endangered species of sunflower-like plant, was sprayed with herbicide by TVA contractors recently, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Last month, basking in a patch of open sun on the TVA power line right-of-way in Hawkins Cove State Natural Area near Sewanee, the Cumberland rosinweed found a new enemy: TVA contractors in helicopters spraying herbicides around the power towers.
But the flower, known in scientific circles as Silphium brachiatum, also has a Sewanee angel or two. The chest-high plant with bright yellow petals may not look too special to the casual eye, but don’t get between it and Mary Priestley. Or John Christof.
Last week, Priestley, the curator for the Sewanee Herbarium and editor of the Sewanee Plant Press, drove by the patch expecting to see the sunflowers waving at her.
What she found instead was a mass of dying browned brush. “I was horrified,” she said. “And I sent a letter to Tom Kilgore, TVA CEO,” she said. “My hope is that going public with a complaint will convince TVA to put checks in place. … As far as I know, there are no negative repercussions if a mistake like this is made. After all, it’s ‘just’ wildflowers!”
Nearly 400 animal and plant species in the southeastern United States, from the Tennessee forestfly to the Texas trillium, are part of a national push by the Obama administration to settle whether hundreds of varieties are endangered, reports The Tennessean.
As part of a settlement with environmental groups, the administration has agreed to consider whether more than 700 freshwater species nationally — most in the Southeast — deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.
More than 80 of the species are found in Tennessee, ranging from the state’s official amphibian, the Tennessee cave salamander, to the Cumberland Gap cave beetle and the Smokies snowfly, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that sued the federal government to spur reviews of the species.
Sixteen of the species live only in Tennessee.
“It’s a lot of species that people have never heard of … but they’re very striking,” said Noah Greenwald, the center’s endangered species director.
Patrick Rakes, co-director of the nonprofit Conservation Fisheries Inc. in Knoxville, described the freshwater fishes on the list as “very, very rare.”
“Some of these fish, you’re looking at fewer than a thousand in the world,” Rakes said. “These fish truly warrant consideration for listing.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Small fish native to Tennessee and Kentucky are among five species being added to the federal endangered species list.
Among them are the Cumberland darter, found only above Cumberland Falls in Tennessee and Kentucky. The species was historically found in 21 streams in the upper Cumberland River system, but now survives in short stretches of less than one mile along a dozen streams.
Also being listed is the chucky madtom, a small catfish. Since 2000, only three examples of the species have been collected from one stream — Little Chucky Creek in northeastern Tennessee.
The laurel dace, found in only six streams on the Cumberland Plateau, is also being added.
The species’ listing becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register on Tuesday.