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Loach minnow

Arizona Daily Star, October 28, 2010

AZ, NM fish may get protection

ALBUQUERQUE - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to designate nearly 800 miles of streams and rivers in New Mexico and Arizona as critical habitat for two small Southwestern fish species and reclassify them from threatened species to endangered.

The proposed rule on the spikedace and loach minnow will be filed Thursday in the Federal Register, beginning a comment period that ends Dec. 27.

The federal agency proposes about 726 miles of streams as critical habitat for the spikedace and 709 miles for the loach minnow - much of it overlapping - for a total of 796 miles, said Jeff Humphrey, a spokesman for the agency in Phoenix.

Proposed habitat is located in Arizona's Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Navajo, Pima, Pinal and Yavapai counties and New Mexico's Catron, Grant and Hidalgo counties. The fish have been eliminated from more than 80 percent of their historic ranges in the two states.

Fish and Wildlife expects a final decision in October 2011.

A federal judge ruled last year the Fish and Wildlife Service could reconsider critical habitat designation for the two species.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said increased habitat protection and recognition of the species' "precarious status" should raise the alarm for action to protect Southwest rivers and streams. "Habitat destruction and invasive species are putting nearly all of the fish, frog and other aquatic species at risk," he said.

© Copyright 2010, Arizona Daily Star

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton