The Center for Biological Diversity and Tennessee Riverkeeper reached an agreement with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. (MTMUS) to protect the critically endangered spring pygmy sunfish and minimize impacts from a planned automobile manufacturing plant in Huntsville, Ala.
The agreement will protect at least 1,100 acres of the Beaverdam Spring and Creek Complex where the sunfish lives and provide $6 million to conserve the species and its habitat. The land will be protected in its natural state and restricted to low-impact uses.
“This agreement also will help ensure that citizens can continue to enjoy clean water, wildlife and new jobs,” said David Whiteside, founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper. “Clean, wholesome rivers are everyone’s right, and Tennessee Riverkeeper is dedicated to protecting that right. This agreement will benefit Huntsville and future generations of Americans.”
This agreement was reached after the Center raised concerns in a notice of intent to sue related to the Endangered Species Act implications of the development of a manufacturing plant in the area. The factory will be built adjacent to Beaverdam Creek west of Huntsville, which is one of only two places the spring pygmy sunfish survives.
“We’re happy Toyota and Mazda have committed to doing the right thing for this pretty little sunfish and the unique spring where it survives,” said Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center. “With this agreement, the sunfish has more than a fighting chance to make it.”
The agreement commits MTMUS to place $4 million in a restricted endowment fund that will provide permanent funding for future conservation projects to benefit the spring pygmy sunfish, including habitat restoration, captive propagation, genetic studies and reintroduction efforts.
In addition to the endowment, $2 million will be dedicated to immediate habitat restoration and monitoring in the Beaverdam Spring and Creek watershed, including a project to restore the connection between Moss Spring and the other spring heads in the Beaverdam Spring and Creek Complex.
“Environmental sustainability and the conservation of natural habitat is a global priority for both Mazda and Toyota,” said Mark Brazeal, Vice President of Administration, MTMUS. “We are pleased that this effort to protect the sunfish and its habitat further demonstrates our commitment to protecting biodiversity, particularly regarding threatened and endangered species. We will continue to work with the conservation groups and environmental experts to develop our plant site sustainably.”
As part of the agreement, the Center for Biological Diversity and Tennessee Riverkeeper agree to move forward in cooperation with MTMUS, in lieu of potential legal challenges. The conservation groups will not receive any monetary benefit from the agreement.
The MTMUS automobile manufacturing plant will be constructed on the “Huntsville Megasite” in Limestone County at the intersection of Powell Road and Old Highway 20. Once operational the manufacturing plant will be capable of producing 300,000 automobiles per year.
The site of the future automobile plant is directly adjacent to the Beaverdam Spring and Creek complex, which until recently was believed to be the only remaining spring complex occupied by the spring pygmy sunfish. After a recent discovery in Blackwell Swamp in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the sunfish is now known from only two locations in the world, both in northern Alabama.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The mission of Tennessee Riverkeeper is to protect the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers by enforcing environmental laws and educating the public.
SOURCE: Tennessee Riverkeeper
Meanwhile, the City of Huntsville released the following statement on the agreement.
“Huntsville is pleased to see partner participation in addition to the City’s long-term efforts with U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) to preserve the habitat of the Spring Pygmy Sunfish. Huntsville has remained steadfast in its long-term efforts in monitoring, protecting, and sustaining this area of habitat near the megasite property with USFWS and adjacent property owners. We believe that with a focus on preservation of a habitat area, the Spring Pygmy Sunfish will continue thrive and increase in population such that new habitat areas can be established similar to the recently announced Blackwell Swamp population located within the National Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. With this collaborative effort by multiple organizations, the future for the Spring Pygmy Sunfish will be stable and possibly no longer be threatened. Thanks to partners at Mazda and Toyota, there will be dedicated funding to continue this effort to ensure this pristine environment may exist for generations to come.”