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The snail darter is no longer facing extinction and has been removed from the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced.

The three-inch, snail-eating fish was first listed as endangered in 1975 due to the planned construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennesse River, then the snail darter’s only known habitat. In 1978, the Supreme Court blocked the construction of the dam, citing the Endangered Species Act, but the next year Congress exempted the project from the act’s requirements, clearing the way for its completion.

To save the snail darter, biologists transplanted the fish into the nearby Hiawassee and Holston rivers, and other waterways, while the Tennessee Valley Authority altered the operation of the Tellico Dam to release more oxygen-rich water downstream. A drop in water pollution following river cleanup under the Clean Water Act further boosted the fish’s recovery.

The snail darter joins more than 50 other plants and animals that have recovered under federal protection, including American alligators, humpback whales, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles.

“The recovery of the snail darter shows the success of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act,” Jim Williams, a former Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who wrote the original rule protecting the snail darter, said in a statement. “With better management of water releases at hydropower and navigation dams, and removal of a lot of dams that no longer serve their original purpose, we could recover dozens more aquatic species that are still imperiled by decisions from decades ago.”


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