The Laurel dace. Please credit Conservation Fisheries for the photos.
One of five fish recently proposed for the endangered list lives in a portion of Soddy Creek and its tributaries.
The two-inch laurel dace lives in only six creeks on the Walden's Ridge portion of the Cumberland Plateau. It historically was found in seven streams on the ridge, but now has disappeared from Laurel Branch, a tributary of Sale Creek.
"In these six streams, laurel dace are known to occupy reaches of 0.2 to 5 miles in length," according to Elsie Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The other fish proposed for listing as endangered are the chucky madtom in Upper East Tennessee; the Cumberland darter, which lives in Kentucky and Tennessee near the state border; the rush darter in Alabama; and the yellowcheek darter in Arkansas.
"Primary threats to all five fish species include reduction of habitats and ranges, small population sizes and vulnerability to natural or human induced catastrophic events, such as pollution and toxic spills," Ms. Davis said.
Anna George, head of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, has been doing genetic sampling on the laurel dace.
"We are using the genetic data to examine what impact the range size has on the genetic health of the fish," she said. "We also can use the information to determine what conservation strategies have the most impact."
She said the research is part of a larger study she is doing into this group of fish, called the redbelly daces.
"The laurel dace have a very small range and are quickly disappearing across most of it," she said. "Some other members of the group have similarly restricted distributions, like blackside dace, which is also currently federally protected."
* A 60-day comment public comment period ends on Aug. 23. To read the proposed rule and comment, go to www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480b0941e
* U.S. Fish and Wildlife will process the comments and begin work on the final rule.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
In Hamilton County, the laurel dace creeks are in Soddy Creek, Horn Branch and Cupp Creek, said Stephanie Chance, listing and candidate conservation coordinator and biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In Bledsoe and Rhea counties, the creeks with laurel dace are Young's Creek, Moccasin Creek and Bumbee Creek in the Piney River system, she said.
Dr. George said the good news about laurel dace is that, because they live in very small headwater creeks, protecting their habitat can be easier.
She said property owners can make a difference by leaving trees along the small streams to help protect the water quality and by not disposing of trash or motor oil in creeks.
"Besides, we all live downstream. Conserving the laurel dace means that we help care for everything from the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico," Dr. George said.
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Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...