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For Immediate Release, January 24, 2013

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Southwest Fish Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection With 293 Stream Miles of Protected Habitat

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection today for a rare fish called the Zuni bluehead sucker, along with 293 stream miles of proposed “critical habitat” to protect it. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for federal protection for the fish in 2004, and today’s proposed rule results from a 2011 agreement with the Center to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. The sucker is found in the Zuni River watershed in New Mexico, the Little Colorado River watershed in eastern Arizona, and Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona. The sucker was once common but has been lost from more than 90 percent of its range over the past 20 years.

Zuni bluehead sucker
Photo courtesy USFWS. Photos and an illustration are available for media use.

“The Zuni bluehead sucker desperately needs Endangered Species Act protection to have a fighting chance at survival, so we’re very pleased that this special desert fish and its habitat are finally being proposed for protection,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist with the Center. 

The sucker was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1985. Sucker populations declined dramatically as the result of chemical treatments to remove green sunfish and fathead minnow to help introduce rainbow trout populations for sport fishing. Its habitat has been lost and degraded due to water withdrawal, logging, overgrazing, development and erosion. Global climate change, drought and increasing water demand from human population growth pose major threats to the sucker’s survival. The sucker is also threatened by predation from introduced fish and crayfish; surviving populations are small and isolated, increasing the risk of extinction.

The critical habitat being proposed for the fish is in Apache County, Ariz.; Cibola, McKinley and San Juan counties, N.M.; and on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

The sucker is eight inches long with a torpedo-shaped body, bluish head, and silvery-tan to dark-green coloration with black mottling. “To attract the ladies, these guys get a flashy red stripe on them in mating season, just like a prom cummerbund,” said Curry.

Suckers require clean, permanently flowing water and cannot reproduce in polluted water because silt covers and suffocates their eggs. They feed by scraping algae off rocks and plants.

“The Zuni bluehead sucker is one of hundreds of freshwater species we could lose if we don’t take action to address pollution, water depletion, climate change, and human population growth. We have a moral imperative to do a better job taking care of our freshwater resources and the wild animals that depend on them for survival,” said Curry.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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