For Immediate Release
Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681
Two Texas Fishes, 623 Miles of River Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection
Tiny Fishes in Brazos River Watershed Nearly Vanished in 2011 Drought
AUSTIN, Texas - As part of an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for two Texas fishes, along with 623 miles of river habitat. The sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner are small minnows that live only in prairie streams in the arid upper Brazos River watershed. The shiners have been lost from more than half of their historical range and now survive in only one highly endangered population.
“Without help, these two unique Texas fishes will disappear forever. Endangered Species Act protection will make sure that the shiners and their habitat are around for future generations,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center.
The shiners are severely threatened by decreased water flows due to reservoirs, drought, groundwater pumping, salt cedar invasion and global climate change. The fishes nearly went extinct in 2011 when Texas experienced the worst drought on record and the upper Brazos ran dry. State fish biologists rescued shiners and held a small population in captivity until river flows returned the following year. Endangered Species Act protection will make greater funding available for activities to protect and restore the shiners.
The shiners need wide, shallow flowing water with sandy substrate. To reproduce, their eggs and larvae have to remain suspended in flowing water. If the water isn’t flowing fast enough, the eggs and juveniles sink to the bottom and die. Experiments have shown that the fishes need flows of 92 to 227 cubic feet per second to reproduce. They also need at least 171 miles of undammed flowing water for the juveniles to reach maturity. The fishes only live for one to two years, so two years of drought could drive them to extinction.
The critical habitat proposed to protect the fishes is found in Baylor, Crosby, Fisher, Garza, Haskell, Kent, King, Knox, Stonewall, Throckmorton and Young counties. Critical habitat designation requires federal agencies that fund or permit projects to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that their activities will not harm the fishes’ habitat. Scientific studies have shown that populations of endangered species with protected habitat are more than twice as likely to be improving as those without habitat protection.
The sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner have been on a waiting list for federal protection since 2002. The Center petitioned the Service to protect the fishes in 2004, and in 2011 we reached a landmark agreement to expedite protection decisions for the two fishes and 755 other imperiled species around the country. To date 101 species have been protected under the agreement and another 57 have been proposed for protection, including the two shiners.
“We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for making excellent progress on addressing the backlog of plants and animals in need of protection like these Texas shiners,” said Curry. “Congress must now step up and give the Service the money it needs to fully recover our country’s endangered species.”
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