CBS 4, July 8, 2009
Feds: Desert Fish Warrants Protection
By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. ― A fish once found throughout the lower Colorado River basin warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday the roundtail chub will have to wait its turn.
The agency said it will add the chub's populations in New Mexico and Arizona to the federal list of candidate species while it works on listing proposals for other species that are at greater risk of extinction.
The decision comes after a six-year legal battle with the Center for Biological Diversity, which had appealed an earlier ruling by the agency that chubs in the lower Colorado River basin didn't warrant protection because they weren't distinct from populations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
After studying the fish, the agency determined that chubs in the lower basin were significant and that losing that population would wipe out roughly half of the species' range.
The chub has disappeared from about 80 percent of its historic range below Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona and in western New Mexico. Dam construction, water diversions, habitat degradation and nonnative fish are to blame.
"The roundtail is reeling from the one-two punches of habitat loss and the introduction of nonnative predators. ... At this point in time, the roundtail warrants federal protection," said Steve Spangle, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Arizona field supervisor.
The agency will review the fish's status as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act each year until a proposal to list the fish is published. An agency spokesman could not say how long that would take.
There are more than 250 plants, animals and other species on the candidates list and some of them have languished there for years, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
"We're glad that the Fish and Wildlife Service finally agreed that the species warrants protection but adding it to the candidate list doesn't actually provide any protection," he said.
Greenwald said it has been a "long and tortured history" for the roundtail chub. He said the Fish and Wildlife Service first recognized the chub as a species that might warrant protection in 1985 but the agency did not have enough information at the time to make a final determination.
The environmental group petitioned in 2003 to have chubs in the lower Colorado River basin listed, but the agency declined and an appeal was filed.
Greenwald said the fish plays an important role, providing food for other species higher up the food chain.
"We've seen this real breakdown in the food chain in Southwest rivers and streams," he said. "It's not even just one or two species, it's nearly all species in rivers and streams in the Southwest that are endangered at this point."
Jeff Humphrey, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the majority of fish native to Arizona's waterways are already protected by the Endangered Species Act and three others — including the chub — are on the candidate list.
Humphrey added that efforts to restore the chub started a few years ago in Fossil Creek with the removal of nonnative species and the return of more water to the channel. The Arizona Game and Fish Department also has restocked chub in Roundtree Canyon and Ash Creek.
The Fish and Wildlife Service would have to look at the long-term success of such projects before determining whether the fish could be removed from the candidate list, Humphrey said.
"It's about the long term," he said. "It's very difficult to address dewatering in streams especially when we have an expanding population of humans, each with a tap and a lawn hose and also the anticipated effects that climate change may have on how well watered our streams are."
© 2009 The Associated Press.