The robust redhorse, a mystery fish that dropped off the scientific radar screen for 121 years until it was discovered in the Oconee River near Dublin, would become a rare, rather than endangered species, under a proposed new list of Georgia's protected species.
ALBANY, Ga. The robust redhorse, a mystery fish that dropped off the scientific radar screen for 121 years until it was discovered in the Oconee River near Dublin, would become a rare, rather than endangered species, under a proposed new list of Georgia's protected species.
In the first comprehensive revision of the state's protected species lineup since 1992, there are proposals to change the status of some species, such as the redhorse, a sucker fish that can grow to 17 inches and weigh 30 pounds.
The redhorse is considered a recovering species, along with the peregrine falcon and bald eagle, both of which would be down-listed from endangered to rare.
Some other species, such as the Tallapoosa shiner, a minnow that lives almost exclusively in the Tallapoosa River system in northern Georgia and Alabama, would be taken off the protected list.
Still others, such a the star-nosed mole, which lives in various locations from the north Georgia mountains to the Okefenokee Swamp, would get protection as a rare species.
The nearly 200 species under consideration include a handful of rare crawfish, a bevy of imperiled mussels, small flowers found at only a few locations in the state and rare songbirds, snakes and fish.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for plants and critters under Georgia's Wildflower Preservation Act and the Endangered Wildlife Act, took nominations for the new list from the public and the scientific community earlier this year.
Under these proposals, 148 species would be added to the list, 13 species would be removed and the status of 42 current protected species would move up or down among the four classifications -- unusual, rare, threatened or endangered
John Ambrose, assistant chief of DNR's non-game wildlife and natural heritage section, said the proposed revision reflects changes in Georgia's landscape over the past 14 years -- the influx of new residents, forest changes and declining open space and farmland. In some cases, biologists discovered that some protected species simply were not as rare as people thought.
"We've got tremendous diversity in the state, in part because we have a lot of soil types and rock types," he said. "We have portions of five different physiological regions, the Blue Ridge, the Cumberland Plateau, the Ridge and Valley, the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.
"At the same time, we're seeing a lot of changes in the state," he said. "The challenge is to maintain that diversity in the midst of all these changes."
A naturalist identified the robust redhorse in 1870, based on a fish taken from North Carolina's Yadkin River. Then it disappeared from scientific literature until 1991 when a DNR biologist caught five unknown sucker fish near Dublin during an environmental assessment for the for Sinclair Dam, about 50 miles upstream of the city. That led to the rediscovery of the Redhorse.
Biologists have searched for them unsuccessfully in other Southern rivers, but the Redhorse may have survived only in the Oconee, where they use the shoals below the dam as a spawning area. DNR has been increasing the population by breeding them in fish hatcheries and restocking the Oconee.
The Endangered Wildlife Act and the Wildflower Preservation Act are intended to deter the illegal harvest of rare plants and animals. DNR's proposed changes will be submitted for public comment. They will have to be approved by the state Board of Natural Resources, possibly in August, before they take effect.
Source: Associated Press