ASHEVILLE, N.C.― The U.S. Forest Service recently announced it will withdraw a 2,400-acre logging project in the Monongahela National Forest following objections raised by conservation groups about harm to an endangered fish, according to a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center and the Friends of Blackwater submitted formal objections in July. The groups said the Big Rock Timber Project would threaten the endangered candy darter and the area’s waters. The project, which was slated to take place in Nicholas and Webster counties, is now listed as “cancelled” on the Forest Service’s website.

“We appreciate the Forest Service’s decision to withdraw this misguided project,” said Jason Totoiu, a senior attorney at the Center. “Building new logging roads and clearcutting trees on extremely steep slopes would have been disastrous for wildlife, including the beautiful candy darter,” Totoiu said.

The project would likely have caused significant erosion and sent sediment into rivers and streams, threatening the rare fish and other animals, the Center’s news release said.

“Friends of Blackwater and all of our supporters are very pleased that the Monongahela National Forest supervisor has withdrawn the Big Rock Timber Project proposal,” said Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater. “Hopefully this is a step toward fully protecting the candy darter, a tiny jewel of a fish found in the timbering proposal area, near the world-famous Cranberry Glades,” Rodd said.

In 2010 the Center and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy petitioned to protect the candy darter. In 2018 the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as endangered following that petition and a 2015 lawsuit. The agency also proposed protecting 370 stream miles as critical habitat.

The candy darter has been lost from at least half its range and of the 18 surviving populations, only five are considered to be very healthy, Center officials said.

With vivid teal, orange and red coloration during the breeding season, candy darters are considered to be one of the most vibrant fishes in North America. The fish prefer shallow, fast-flowing streams with rocky bottoms. Their habitat becomes unsuitable when silt and sediment fill in the spaces between the rocks, burying the places they need for shelter and egg-laying, according to the Center.

Candy Darter
Credit: Todd Crail/University of Toledo

Candy darters play an important role in nature because they eat caddisfly and mayfly larvae and are eaten in turn by larger fish. The species also plays an indirect role in keeping rivers clean by serving as a host for freshwater mussel reproduction, which are important filter feeders, the Center said.

The 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the nation and considered to be an area of global ecological importance, Center officials said.