This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed removing a tiny minnow from the endangered species list, which would make it the first fish ever to be successful recovered, thanks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Oregon chub is a small minnow that is found only in the Willamette River Basin in floodplain habitats, whose population had dwindled down to fewer than 1,000 in eight locations when it was listed as endangered in 1993.
The once plentiful fish were nearly wiped out as a result of habitat modification that came in the form of dam construction and the drainage of wetlands to create farms and control flooding and toxic runoff from fertilizers and roadways, among other problems. They were also easy prey for non-native amphibians and fish species, including bass, who were illegally introduced to the area.
A recovery plan was completed in 1998 and the minnow’s classification was changed from endangered to threatened in 2010. In 2013, the FWS concluded that the chub had met the recovery criteria outlined in the plan, thanks to a number of public and private partnerships that worked cooperatively to restore habitat and the natural flow of water, in addition to working to reintroduce chubs.
According to officials, the population now stands at more than 150,000 fish at 80 locations with a diverse range of habitats.
“This is an excellent example of how the Endangered Species Act is intended to function – partners working together to recover an endangered species. This is a tremendous success that came about from a great vision and a lot of hard work on behalf of the Service and our partners at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as private landowners and many others,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the FWS, in a statement.
Officials stated they will continue to monitor the minnows for years to come, but they’re no longer threatened with extinction.
Not only is this a victory for these tiny little fish, but the FWS points out that the efforts put into their recovery have led to better management of the river system that comes with multiple benefits, including improved ecosystem function and water quality that’s good for both us and wildlife. The efforts to protect the chub will also benefit a number of other species that benefit from healthy rivers and secure habitats, including salmon, trout, lamprey species, red-legged frogs, turtles and birds.
In the 40 years since the ESA was created, 26 species have successfully recovered and been removed from the endangered species list, while efforts are underway to protect hundreds of others from disappearing from the earth entirely.
Unfortunately, some are still fighting to dismantle the ESA, claiming it’s a failure. This week a “working group” of 13 House Republicans released a proposal to kill key provisions of the ESA and give politicians more power over which imperiled plants and animals get protections, limit our ability to hold the government accountable and stop environmentalists from filing lawsuits on the behalf of species that need help. Many are reportedly skeptical that the GOP will actually succeed here, while conservationists argue that this is the time to focus on recovery efforts for species who have finally been listed.
As for the chubs, the FWS now has up to one year to determine whether the proposal should be finalized and will open a 60-day public comment period on February 6 that will extend until April 7, 2014. You can submit a comment at regulations.gov with the docket number FWS–R1–ES–2014–0002.
Photo credit: Oregon Fish & Wildlife Office