PANAMA CITY — A Florida wildlife advocacy group could soon file a lawsuit to ensure protections for the Panama City crayfish.
The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a formal notice of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to finalize protections for the 2-inch-long crayfish species that is unique to Bay County. Officials announced about four years ago that it was a threatened species.
RELATED: (March 2018) Panama City Crayfish needs better protection
"The diminutive Panama City crayfish is an important part of the local ecosystem and these animals desperately need federal protection," Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the center, said in a Thursday press release. "Tiny critters like the Panama City crayfish need some love too."
RELATED: Panama City crayfish habitat to be restored
The center petitioned the wildlife service to list the crayfish under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. It then sued in 2013 to compel the agency to make a proposed listing decision on the crayfish. The Service finally proposed listing the crayfish in 2018, but has failed to finalize that proposal, the press release states.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers the Panama City crayfish endangered due to its limited range and habitat degradation. Its only known habitat is the flatwoods and ponds and ditches of a small area of Bay County, where it’s threatened by groundwater depletion, development and pollution. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considers it a species of special concern.
Small freshwater invertebrates like crayfish play an important role in their ecosystems, the press release states. They improve water quality, create structures used by other animals, and provide food for larger animals. The center is working to gain protection for hundreds of imperiled freshwater species in the southeastern United States, which is a global hotspot for both biodiversity and extinction.
Meanwhile, the county recently planned to restore 17 acres of the crayfish’s habitat as part of a project to widen Jenks Avenue. The restoration project is located near 26th Street and Jenks Avenue and it will include removing debris from Hurricane Michael.
The Jenks Avenue widening between Baldwin Road and State Road 390 includes habitat reconstruction because storm water facilities have to be constructed along the roadways. Invasive species such as popcorn and titi trees will be removed as part of the habitat reconstruction.
Also, the new public park along the shore of North Bay and McKitchen’s Bayou was set up to protect the crayfish.
"Bay County had purchased this property for storm water needs and mitigation for the crayfish prior to the hurricane," Keith Bryant, Bay County public works director, has said. "When the hurricane came through, much of the timber was blown down and that’s not good for the species."