For Immediate Release, June 20, 2007
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Don Duff, Great Basin Chapter Trout Unlimited, (801) 201-1008
Mark Clemens, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, (801) 467-9297
Protection Sought for Key Desert Fish
Snake Valley Water Pumping Threatens Survival of Least Chub
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah— The Center for Biological Diversity, Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club filed a petition today to protect the least chub, a rare fish species found only in Utah, as a threatened or endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The least chub has been reduced to just six fragile wild populations, three of which occur in the Snake Valley, where planned pumping of water for runaway growth in Las Vegas is a serious threat to the tiny fish’s survival. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 12 months to determine whether protection is warranted.
“The least chub is on the verge of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This small, minnow-like fish is an important part of the web of life in Utah. It’s found nowhere else in the world, and it badly needs the effective protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”
Least chub were once widely distributed in the rivers, streams, marshes and springs over much of Utah west of the Wasatch Front, where they lived on small invertebrates like mosquito larvae. Today they are found naturally in just six complexes of springs and ponds, and are threatened by a combination of nonnative fish such as mosquito fish, livestock grazing, suburban sprawl, and — of greatest concern — proposed groundwater pumping by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The water authority has proposed to drill nine pumping stations just inside Nevada, from the Utah/Nevada border in Snake Valley, to withdraw 25,000 to 30,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater .
“In 30 years of working with the least chub, I’ve seen populations drop precipitously in the face of excessive groundwater pumping, exotic species, and other factors,” stated Don Duff, president of the Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, former federal fisheries biologist, and a landowner in Snake Valley. “Decline of the least chub is an indicator of declining water tables that will also harm farmers, ranchers and dozens of other species that depend on desert streams and springs of the Snake Valley, including the Bonneville cutthroat trout—state fish of Utah.”
The least chub was proposed for protection as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995, but protection was never finalized, based in part on the efforts of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to conserve the fish. These efforts culminated in the development of a “conservation agreement and strategy” in 1998 that called for, among other actions, surveys to further clarify the chub’s status and creation of new populations through translocation. One new population was found and four “refuge” populations established in largely human-modified habitats; but the program will be gravely undermined if the Southern Nevada Water Authority is allowed to move forward with groundwater pumping and if more is not done to protect populations from ongoing threats like nonnative fish and suburban sprawl.
"The least chub is an ambassador from an imperiled ecosystem — desert springs in western Utah," said Mark Clemens of the Utah Chapter of Sierra Club. "If we can save this fish, we know we will have protected an ecosystem and the people whose lives depend on it for future generations."