Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 30, 2020


Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Disappearing Great Plains Fish Proposed for Federal Protection

Peppered Chub to Gain 1,068 River Miles of Critical Habitat in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the peppered chub, a once-widespread fish in the Arkansas River and its tributaries, as an endangered species. The Service plans to designate 1,068 river miles in four stretches that flow through grasslands in New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma as critical habitat for the fish.

The proposal follows a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in February to protect the chub, along with 240 other imperiled animal and plant species the federal agency has ignored. A final rule will follow a 60-day public comment period.

“We have to avert the tragedy of this exquisite fish disappearing forever,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve blocked its homes with dams, fouled its habitat with pollution, and reduced the snow and rain that feed its river by heating up the atmosphere. Protecting the peppered chub now can help us heal our abusive relationship with our rivers before it’s too late.”

Due to widespread alterations in hydrology and water quality and quantity throughout the Arkansas River basin, the peppered chub now swims in only 6% of its historic range, in the upper South Canadian River and a tributary creek. And in that last remaining population, chub numbers are declining.

The proposed critical habitat includes currently occupied habitat that starts just downstream of Ute Dam in northeastern New Mexico and runs along the upper South Canadian River and the river’s southern tributary Revuelto Creek. It extends 197 river miles downstream to the Lake Meredith reservoir formed by Sanford Dam in the Panhandle of Texas.

Three other river stretches are also proposed for critical habitat protection, since the sole surviving peppered chub population could disappear at any time, necessitating swift reintroduction elsewhere to prevent extinction and enable recovery. Four hundred river miles of the lower Canadian River flowing through Texas and Oklahoma are proposed as currently unoccupied critical habitat, along with 292 miles of the Cimarron River and 179 miles of the Ninnescah River, which both flow from Kansas to Oklahoma.

The Endangered Species Act defines critical habitat, in part, as areas that are necessary for the recovery of an endangered or threatened species. It prohibits federal actions and funding that would harm or destroy that designated habitat.

“Though hardly as famous as some iconic mammals, the peppered chub once shared the Arkansas River with vast herds of bison slaking their thirst while grizzly bears prowled willow thickets along the riverbanks,” said Robinson. “Despite the agonizing delay up to this point, if the government takes quick action now under the Endangered Species Act, the peppered chub can help make the once-great plains great again.”


The peppered chub is a three-inch, torpedo-shaped minnow with dark spots on its upper body; it is otherwise translucent. The chub occupies shallow, swiftly moving waters and depends on robust streamflow to keep its eggs from settling to the bottom, where they risk getting smothered by sediment.

The peppered chub was identified as a unique species in 2004 and petitioned for protection by WildEarth Guardians in 2007. It was not proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service for protection until after the Center for Biological Diversity’s February 2020 lawsuit for the chub and 240 other neglected species, many of which are also water dependent.

Peppered chub (Macrhybopsis tetranema). Photo courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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