See this pretty fish? Its called the watercress darter, which is a pretty delightful sounding name. It’s endangered in the only state where it occurs: Alabama. There is in fact only one parish where it occurs: Jefferson. Even in Jeffersen Fish & Game lists only four streams where it is known to survive! The largest of these is Roebuck Springs Basin. which is dubiously located between the Youth correctional facility and the municipal golf course.
They are found only at mid-depths in dense accumulations of aquatic vegetation including watercress, in springs and spring runs.
Guess what the city of Birmingham did? I’ll give you a hint. It’s what the City of Martinez tried to do. It’s what many many cities do routinely. Its what the left hand corner of this website outlines on a daily basis.
They killed some beavers! Destroyed some dams and got the creek flowing back to normal.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – The removal of a beaver dam from the Roebuck Springs Basin killed “thousands of endangered watercress darters and around two million snails,” and destroyed half their habitat, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources claims in Shelby County Court. The agency says Birmingham employees did not consult state or federal authorities about the “consequences or wisdom of removal of the dam.”
The city “knew or should have known that removing a beaver dam and surrounding natural structures would potentially disrupt the water level of the Basin and its inhabitants,” the agency claims.It says the destruction of the dam caused a “serious dewatering event” that not only killed fish and snails, but also drained 80 to 90 percent of their habitat.
Watercress darters are protected fish that live in only four springs, all in Jefferson County, Ala. About 11,760 darters were killed when workers for the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Department removed the beaver dam on Sept. 19. 2008, according to the lawsuit.
The action charges them with five counts including negligence, wantonness, nuisance and tresspass to chattel. There aren’t very many of these fish left, and what remains of their numbers belong to the state. So doing something that destroys the largest population of them in the state is a big deal. The lawsuite demands that the court award damages equal to the cost of replacing every one of those 11,760 darters for starters. The action itself is a fun read, go here to see the complaint.
I’ll make sure I include this story in my next “it’s unwise to kill beavers because…” letter. Its been a while since we had a good beaver lawsuit. Whatever happens, lets hope the story makes the city of Birmingham a little cautious about removing a beaver dam next time and becomes a cautionary tale that makes every city think twice.
When I went to check out footage of the darters on youtube I found this, which brought me to the reporting of Glynn Wilson. Turns out Fish and Game has been trying to get some satisfaction and answers on this story for a long time before involving the courts. In fact, Fish & Game was so alarmed they asked the city to rebuild the dam out of sandbags!
It’s a fascinating tale that made the evening news many times. There were claims that the tennis courts were being flooded by the dams, and countering observations that the courts were the highest point on the property and never ever flooded. There are photos of the area before the beavers were killed and the area after the dams were taken out and concrete sink holes placed in. The whole story is such a hardy collection of lies and more lies that you can see how it got to the level of a lawsuit.
Remember this is Alabama, people. No offense, but these aren’t crazy liberals from Berkeley protesting damage of mottled newt habitat. These are hunters and fishers and people who know how to kill a beaver or two. That just makes the story much more fun, in my opinion. Sorry about your pretty fish. I hope you scare the wrasse outta the city and lots of cities near by.