Decades-Long Recovery Effort Leads to Okaloosa Darter Delisting

  • Published
  • By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
  • SAF/IE

On August 2, the Department of the Air Force celebrated the delisting of the Okaloosa darter from the threatened and endangered list under the Endangered Species Act with a ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. More than 90% of these small, perch-like fish live in six clear stream systems on land managed by the installation. 

“Eglin is one of the Air Force’s largest and most active test and training areas, and this delisting is a prime example of how our installations can protect and restore the environment while ensuring continuity of critical missions,” explained Ms. Nancy Balkus, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety, and Infrastructure. “Natural infrastructure preservation and maintenance are essential to ensure continuity of our test and training operations and military readiness.” 

The recovery of the Okaloosa darter at Eglin AFB exemplifies how built and natural infrastructure improvements which support the military mission can contribute to the recovery of an endangered species. In 1989, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Jeopardy Biological Opinion, which stated the continuation of operations at the installation jeopardized species survival. Eglin has engaged in numerous consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service to accommodate current and new missions on the installation since.  

"More than 30 years of best management practices and partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the efforts of many others led to the recovery of the Okaloosa darter," Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Geraghty, 96th Test Wing commander explained in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting announcement on June 28.   

The installation implemented a series of mitigative actions to address sedimentation into streams from the highly erodible soils. Many of the original range roads were in poor shape and unstable in wet weather. Improvements to the road base and drainage infrastructure, as well as replacement of ineffective stream culverts, enhanced road function and reduced erosion. Partnerships with Federal and state agencies and non-profit organizations aided restoration and revegetation efforts in other eroded landscapes. The built and natural infrastructure improvements have enhanced mission capabilities, while contributing to the recovery of the species. 

While small, the Okaloosa darter plays a critical role in the balance of the creeks and streams on the Eglin reservation and the surrounding areas. The species was originally listed as endangered in 1973 with less than 1,500 individual darters left in the population. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the Okaloosa darter from endangered to threatened because of recovery efforts. Eglin’s natural resource managers estimate that the population now exceeds 600,000 – a 400-fold increase from its population low. 

“Affecting positive change for a species to the point where reclassification is justified is a monumental task taking years of hard work and dedication from many professionals across multiple organizations,” said Bruce Hagedorn, Eglin Natural Resources chief.  

The Department of the Air Force is committed to responsible stewardship for over 9 million acres of land and engage in strategic partnerships critical for long-term success in balancing species recovery and military readiness. A post-delisting monitoring plan will ensure the Okaloosa darter remains healthy and secure from the risk of extinction, while allowing Eglin to continue its test and training mission.