The West Virginia Division of Highways is providing nearly $180,000 to West Liberty University to determine the effects of construction activities on endangered crayfish.
The West Virginia Division of Highways, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and West Liberty University are working together to move two protected crayfish species from bridge updates and replacements occurring in the next several years.
"The Division of Highways is thrilled to be part of an initiative that will benefit so many people as well as a native West Virginia species," WVDOH Natural Resource Unit leader Traci Cummings said in a press release.
WVDOH endangered species specialist Sydney Burke added, "Transportation projects give us opportunities to work on rare wildlife in the area, and to find ways to conserve those species while ensuring the state's roads and bridges are up to date and safe.”
The conservation initiative in the Big Sandy River watershed will begin in 2020. Undergraduate and graduate students from WLU Professor Zachary Loughman’s lab conducting field work with crayfish.
"My students and I want to do everything we can to get the word out about crayfish, why they’re important and what we need to do to save them," Loughman said. "Through this initiative, we are excited to foster the connection communities already have with the streams and rivers in this region.
Students from West Liberty will track crayfish movements to better understand how they live, how they respond to bridge construction, and how the Division of Highways can improve bridge design and construction process to lessen the impacts on the populations.
The crayfish were protected in 2016 under the Endangered Species Act.
Ongoing erosion and sedimentation have made many streams within the region uninhabitable for the species. The Big Sandy crayfish (Cambarus callainus) is found in six isolated populations across Floyd and Pike counties, Kentucky; Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise counties, Virginia; and McDowell and Mingo counties, West Virginia. The Guyandotte River crayfish (Cambarus veteranus) is found in only two streams in Wyoming County, West Virginia.
In a press release, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote tips on how anyone can help keep streams healthy for crayfish, trout and other wildlife:
- Drive ATVs and vehicles on designated trails and not through or in streams.
- Don’t dump chemicals into streams and report chemical spills to state environmental protection agencies.
- During timber harvest, construction, or other projects, implement best management practices for sediment and erosion control.
- Start a watershed group or assist in stream and water quality monitoring efforts.
- Plant trees and other native woody vegetation along stream banks to help restore and preserve water quality.