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Endangered Species Act Saves Rare Fish in California and Oregon
PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on February 12 (see PDF) that Endangered Species Act protections have successfully recovered the Modoc sucker, a fish native to south central Oregon and the Pit River basin in northeastern California. The sucker was granted federal protection in 1985 due to streambank erosion from cattle grazing and predation from nonnative brown trout. At the time of listing, the sucker was only found in seven streams in two watersheds, occupying just 13 miles of habitat. Today it is found in 12 streams in three watersheds and occupies 43 miles of habitat.
“From grizzly bears and bald eagles to little-known fish like the Modoc sucker, the Endangered Species Act has successfully prevented the extinction of our country’s rarest and most vulnerable wild animals for 40 years now. I’m pleased about this fish’s recovery, though to be honest I'm still concerned about the urgent need to make sure its fragile habitat stays intact going forward,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The sucker is found in the Modoc National Forest in northeastern California and the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon, and on state and private lands.
The Service and partners took many actions to save the fish, including fencing out livestock, stabilizing stream banks, improving stream-side vegetation, and placing boulders in streams to create better habitat. Extensive landowner outreach by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and state agencies improved livestock grazing practices and helped restore healthy streambanks.
Since the fish was protected, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has stopped stocking predatory brown trout in streams in the Pit River basin; the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife no longer stocks brown trout in the Goose Lake sub-basin.
The proposal to remove protection for the sucker will now undergo a scientific peer-review process and public comment period. The Service will monitor the status of the fish for 10 years to make sure populations remain stable.
“Given the prospect of increasing drought in California, this fish will continue to need to be monitored closely,” said Curry. “That said, we’re glad that many of the immediate threats have been addressed.”
Suckers grow to be 7 inches long, with fleshy lips for catching invertebrates and scraping algae from stream bottoms. They live between fast-flowing cold trout streams and lower flow areas that support warm-water fish. Adults are greenish-brown with cream bellies; males develop showy orange bands and fins in mating season.
The Modoc sucker is the second fish ever to be proposed for delisting, following the announcement of the recovery of the Oregon chub last week. Both fishes benefited from on-the-ground habitat improvements, scientific recovery plans, and officially designated critical habitat protection.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
February 12, 2014