The loach minnow and spikedace are two tiny river-dwelling fish, both about three inches long, native to the Gila River basin in New Mexico and Arizona. Watersheds and river-dependent animals and plants have suffered drastic devastation in the Southwest over the past century, making the Gila an important focus of the Center's conservation work. Eliminated throughout most of their range due to habitat destruction, both the fish are federally listed as threatened, though an "endangered" listing is warranted.

The Center had brought about critical habitat designation for the two species in 1994, but the designation was overturned on a technicality. In 1999, in response to another Center suit, habitat was redesignated to the tune of 900 river miles. In 2000, the critical habitat designation allowed us to challenge livestock overgrazing on national forests in the two states. Cattle are the main threat to the loach minnow and spikedace; their streamside grazing eradicates vegetation that shades the streams and keeps them cool, removes grasses that stabilize the soil, tramples the stream banks, pollutes the water, and creates massive erosion.

As a result of the challenge, in 2000 the Bureau of Land Management agreed to review the impacts of grazing on 341,140 acres in Arizona-laying the groundwork for a major revision of grazing policy for riverbanks on public lands.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
July 3, 2003
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