Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 3, 2021


Jeff Miller, (510) 499-9185,

Lawsuit Seeks Endangered Species Act Protection for Rare California Fish

Speckled Dace Imperiled by Dams, Water Diversions, Drought, Climate Chaos

LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect two populations of imperiled speckled dace under the Endangered Species Act. The Service failed to make required decisions on protection for the Santa Ana speckled dace, in Southern California, and the Long Valley speckled dace in Mono County, which is nearing extinction in the wild.

“Endangered Species Act protection is a badly needed lifeline for our native speckled dace,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Fire, drought and reckless water policies have taken a toll on so many of the fish in Southern California’s streams. Only a handful of Long Valley speckled dace live in their native springs and streams anymore. They need emergency action and a coordinated reintroduction to survive.”

Both dace populations are endemic to California, meaning they’re not found anywhere else in the world. Santa Ana speckled dace live in the Santa Ana, San Jacinto, San Gabriel and Los Angeles river systems. Long Valley speckled dace once lived in warm springs and creeks in the Upper Owens River watershed in Mono County, but now are barely hanging on in one spring, with a few hundred more fish remaining in an artificial pond at a managed refuge in Inyo County.

The Santa Ana speckled dace has declined due to dams, water diversions, drought, wildfires, flooding, invasive species and rapid climate change. The Long Valley speckled dace faces threats from water diversions, geothermal energy development, climate change and drought, which have dried up suitable springs and stream habitats.

The Center petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for Santa Ana speckled dace and Long Valley speckled dace in 2020. The Service determined that both dace may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but has not yet made overdue listing determinations. Today’s lawsuit was filed in the Central District of California.

Long delays in protecting species under the Endangered Species Act have been a persistent problem for decades. A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards. Under the statute, protection decisions are supposed to take two to three years.

Species Background

Santa Ana speckled dace: The Santa Ana speckled dace is a tiny fish endemic to the Santa Ana, San Jacinto, San Gabriel and Los Angeles river systems of Southern California. They require perennial streams, but dams and water diversion facilities have depleted stream flows.

Introduced species prey on and compete with dace, and urban development, river channelization for flood control, and roads also degrade the dace’s habitat. Due to the widespread destruction of their native habitat, Santa Ana speckled dace now occupy only remnants of their historical range and are largely restricted to headwater tributaries within national forests.

Long Valley speckled dace: The Long Valley speckled dace is a tiny fish endemic to the Long Valley volcanic caldera, east of Mammoth Lakes, in Mono County, California.

Long Valley speckled dace are adapted to warm springs and creeks. Geothermal energy development and water diversions have reduced or dried up springs throughout Long Valley and these dace have disappeared from suitable habitats, including Hot Creek, Little Alkali Lake, and various isolated springs and ponds.

There is now only one very small and declining natural population of Long Valley speckled dace at Whitmore Hot Springs. A few hundred of these fish are also maintained in an artificial pond at a managed refuge in Inyo County, outside the species’ historical range.

Other threats to Long Valley speckled dace habitat include recreational activities, livestock grazing, excessive pumping of groundwater and climate change, since their spring habitats are fed by aquifers that depend on snow melt for recharge.

Santa Ana speckled dace. Photo by Paul Barrett, USFWS. 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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