The Arkansas River shiner hasn’t been seen in Arkansas since 1988 — in fact, it’s presumed to have become extinct in that state. Even back in 1952, when it was first extensively collected from the mainstem Arkansas River, it was suspected to be in decline. Today, thanks largely to reservoirs that have flooded, dewatered, fragmented, or otherwise directly altered considerable sections of formerly precious shiner habitat, the quick little fish swims in just two rivers in the Arkansas River basin. It has disappeared from more than 80 percent of its historical habitat, and less than 50 percent of remaining habitat officially deemed “essential” remains federally protected.
Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the Arkansas River basin population of the shiner as endangered in 1994, the very next year a congressionally imposed moratorium prohibited final listing determinations. When the moratorium was lifted in 1997 and the Service still hadn’t taken final action on protecting the fish, the Center gave notice of its intent to sue. The next year — the same year we filed suit — the Service declared the shiner threatened. But the species still didn’t have critical habitat, which was deemed “not prudent” at the time of listing. So we filed suit again, and in 2001 reached a settlement with the Service that resulted in the designation of 1,148 river miles as critical habitat for the fish.
But after the Service was sued by cattle ranchers in 2003, this designation was vacated. Despite the agency’s subsequent proposal to make a new designation of 1,244 river miles, in 2005 the fish was left with less than half that area as critical habitat — not nearly enough to ensure the species’ recovery. In January 2009 we filed suit against the Bush administration for allowing this unlawful designation to happen.
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Contact: Kierán Suckling