June 13, 2005

Rare Cave Crawfish Spurs Environment Study

ELM SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) -- The rare cave crawfish, which lives in an area near Elm Springs, has spurred a study of the nearby environment in the hope of preventing development-related changes to the ecosystem that enables the blind crustacean to survive.

Biologists from The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit group that buys and preserves plant and animal habitat, is to study the endangered creature this summer.

"It's the rarest crawfish in the world," said Tim Snell, a program director and a scientist with The Nature Conservancy.

David Kampwerth, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the spring near the Benton County-Washington County border where the crawfish was discovered last July is the fourth site in the area with the crawfish - though Benton County is the only known place where the crawfish is found.

Benton County has been experiencing explosive growth and development. Biologists are to evaluate how the building boom is affecting the aquifer-recharge area where the crawfish live. Researchers want to determine the size of the area that provides water to the aquifer that creates the underground water source for the crawfish.

Researchers say the do not anticipate finding anything that would interfere with current transportation plans - projects that would expand roads and Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

Steps to protect the crawfish would include ensuring that sediment from construction sites, oil and gasoline from cars and commercial lawn fertilizers can't easily reach streams, officials said.

The crawfish has been on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife endangered species list since 1993.