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THE NASHVILLE CRAYFISH

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MAY 1, 1996

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SAVING CRAYFISH

 

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vjaeuk8e6kriz3x/Endangered%20Crayfish%20Delay%20Part%20Of%20Road%20Widening%20-%20NewsChannel5.com.mp4

When I was ten years old I use to stay the weekends with my Grandmother Holden. They owned a restaurant called the Belle Meade Restaurant and Motel. Elvis stayed there. When I was born we lived in the little white house out back along Richland Creek. That is where the crayfish story starts. Grandmother use to take me to Richland Creek to catch crayfish. There was nothing in the world I wanted to do more. There was something that fascinated me about them. The hung out under rocks, walked forward and backwards, and swam backwards. Most of all they were just beautiful. They were very plentiful in the creek because it supplied lots of flat limestone rocks. We use to see how many we could catch until Grandmother finish reading her book and it was time to go. I still feel the feeling of despair because I couldn't get enough of playing with my underwater friends. Fast forward to 1996. It was late June, the swim had progressed upstream from Nashville, at Mill Creek. Stephen pulled the boat up in the creek, Amanda my daughter had come aboard by then. I remember how serene the creek with its blue green  color and teeming with Kingfishers, Blue Herons, Soft-shell Turtles and Alligator Gar. This was paradise just a few miles from downtown. No wonder Timothy Demonbreaum lived in a cave a few hundred yards away from the mouth, more that 200 years ago. This was a special place!! Not knowing at the time but this was the only creek in the world that Orconectes shoupi lived. The common name was Nashville Crayfish. He was federally endangered, and he and his habitat was headed for destruction. Sometime before 2003 a woman called me named Dhali Perez-White. She had left several messages on my phone about a marina development on Mill Creek. It's too bad that we don't take action on things we hear, thinking it was just another hoax or somebody saying they were going to do something. The sooner you try to stop something that is threatening our existence or flora and fauna the better. I eventually got involved and saw how enormous this development was going to be, on that beautiful serene creek, Mill Creek. I started gathering information, going to council meetings and learning all I could about this marina development. The weight of the project was moving a lightning speed. I invited council members to come out on Mill Creek to see for themselves, no takers. I help get over 400 signatures of people in the surrounding neighborhoods that opposed the marina and the councilman doesn't turn in the petition to the council. We file an ethics violation on him and it is voted 2-1 to not convict. It was clear the marina developer was being catered to. On third reading the Nashville Metro Council voted to allow marina. From there I knew I had to get my own information after finding out that the marina developer had hired an engineering company to set traps to see if there were any crayfish in the marina footprint. As you guessed, they didn't capture any. I went out and bought crayfish traps from Memphis Net & Twine but found out you have to have a federal take permit to trap federally endangered species. So I found a biologist from Austin Peay State University to help set the traps with a Tennessee Wildlife Resource Biologists that had a permit to oversee the operation. I located a professor at David Lipscomb that had studied the Nashville Crayfish in the 80's to positively identify any crayfish we caught. In the meantime I had been diving in Mill Creek with a video camera to locate any shoupi. One day in 2003 I noticed an unusual rock formation right across from where the marina fuel dock would be built. I dove down and discovered a cave. This was not a coincidence!!! I came back up to the surface and recorded the long/lat of entrance and with camera rolling went back down below the surface to explore the cave. Not to my surprise right off the bat I saw crayfish. I stayed down till my bottle got down to 300psi and surface with some of the most important information since swimming down the Cumberland River in 1996. I took the footage and edited more wildlife into the film. I was ready for the public hearing for which the US Army Corps of Engineers would be issuing their permit on recommendation from the US Fish & Wildlife Service. When it was my turn I lugged my TV and VCR up front and turn it. When the video was finished you could hear a pin drop then applause. The opposition was applauding the pro marina group was shocked. A guy stood up that was in favor of the marina and said; "I have lived on Mill Creek all my life and never seen that much wildlife." He asked how long it took me to film most of the footage and I said; "30 minutes." At this point I thought would have sealed the deal. A few months later the USACE approved the permit. I was disappointed but not discouraged. Over the next year or so I went on a major fundraising campaign to no avail. I only raised a few hundred dollars. I knew I would need more than that if I wanted to stop a $350 Million dollar marina. I gathered a room full of environmental organization leaders and called on a joint effort to file a lawsuit to protect Orconectes shoupi. When the leader of a large group said "who was in" I looked around and nobody raised their hand. I couldn't believe it. Just because the crayfish wasn't warm and fuzzy didn't mean he shouldn't be protected. I thought about the consequences of me taking on such a costly and time consuming fight...and raised my hand on nothing more that "why should a dollar prevent a man from not doing the right thing." So from there I drove to Murfreesboro Tn and got an appointment from the only environmental attorney I knew that never lost a case. I tried to contact Robert F. Kennedy Jr. especially after reading his book The Riverkeepers. So after I convinced the attorney that I would pay the bills for defending the crayfish if it took me the rest of my life, he said "yes." So we filed an intent to sue the US Dept of Interior and the marina developer under the Endangered Species Act. Again I was told I wasn't an expert so I invited the State of Tennessee Water Pollution Control, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, US Army Corp of Engineers, and The Natural Heritage from Tennessee Dept of Environment and Conservation to come out on Mill Creek, and of course the marina developers henchmen came out. We were going to dive in the cave but the weather was bad. I voiced that the weather was good underwater. I'm really not sure they had any hope we would find anything, underwater or above. So I drifted to the other side of the creek. The water was about 10-12 feet in the area. It was November and raining. It wasn't the best time to hunt crayfish. A TWRA biologist and a zoologists were in a boat over messing around in the water with a net a lo and behold caught a crayfish that turned out to be a male shoupi. There are no coincidences! Now that the state of Tennessee held my evidence, I had something concrete from "the experts." to be continued....

 

                                   

                                                                         

US Fish & Wildlife, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency & Natural Heritage.  This day is when the male Orconectes shoupi was caught. 2003