Via ODFW: An inconspicuous minnow that inhabits the backwaters of the Willamette Valley gained national prominence this week when it became the first fish in the United States meet its recovery goals under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it will propose that Oregon chub be taken off the Endangered Species List, the first fish to achieve this status since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted 40 years ago.
It’s all thanks to a remarkable story of cooperation between landowners, non-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies that got behind the effort decades ago to ensure the species would not become extinct.
“I couldn’t be prouder that the first fish species to be proposed for delisting under the Endangered Species Act is an Oregon native,” said Governor John Kitzhaber. “This is a huge compliment to Oregonians and our history of conservation leadership, and an extraordinary testament to the power of collaboration between landowners and local, state, and federal agency employees. The delisting of the Oregon chub is the product of remarkable partnerships by committed people who have advanced Oregon’s natural legacy while showing that economic health is not only possible but strengthened by efforts to recover and safeguard native fish and wildlife.”
“This is an excellent example of how the Endangered Species Act is intended to function, working together with partners to recover endangered species,” added Paul Henson, state supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Oregon office. “This is a monumental success and could not have happened without our partners at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the many others. This came about from a great vision and a lot of hard work on behalf of the Service and our multitude of partners.”
Oregon chubs: The ‘ultimate underdogs’
Oregon chub are likely one of Oregon’s least known fish species because of their size and where they are found. Oregon chub are small; they reach a maximum length of three inches, and they are not targeted by anglers as sport or food fish. These silvery, speckled minnows make their homes in sloughs, bogs, beaver ponds and other slow-moving backwaters of the Willamette Valley. Over the past 100 years, many of these habitats were destroyed by the construction of dams, channelization of streams and draining of wetlands. These habitat losses, combined with the introduction of non-native fish that preyed on and competed with chubs for food, resulted in a sharp decline in their abundance.
“Oregon chub are like the ultimate underdogs,” said Paul Scheerer, ODFW Oregon Chub Project leader, who has devoted the past 22 years of his professional life to recovering the tiny fish. “Not many people know what they’re looking at when they see one, including some biologists.”
When Oregon chub were listed as “endangered” under the ESA in 1993 the population had declined to under 1,000 fish in eight known locations, down from at least 29 locations historically. The listing triggered a multi-agency campaign to recover the Oregon Chub population. The now 22-years-long recovery program included better monitoring, working with landowners to secure new habitat, improving floodplain management and transplanting fish to more than 20 new locations.
When a multi-agency task force known as the Oregon Chub Working Group met in 2012 to review the numbers they concluded the populations were large, stable and dispersed enough to warrant a closer look at delisting the fish. A follow-up review of the numbers a second time, in 2013, confirmed their earlier finding – the populations had grown to approximately 160,000 fish in 83 locations.
Under the criteria set in the Oregon Chub Recovery Plan there needed to be at least 20 populations of at least 500 adults, with each population stable or increasing in abundance for seven years. In addition, these populations needed to be dispersed with at least four populations each in three Oregon river basins – the Middle Fork Willamette, Santiam, and main stem Willamette.
“When I crunched the numbers in 2012 I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve achieved our delisting targets!’” said Brian Bangs, ODFW fish biologist and assistant Oregon Chub Project leader, who’s been studying Oregon chubs since 2008. “This is a big deal to us. We’ve been working on this a long time. It’s been our passion for years.”
Private landowners aided recovery effort
Landowner cooperation was important to the success of the program, according to Bangs. Many landowners were at first wary of introducing an endangered species on their property but became enthusiastic partners as they learned more about Oregon chub and the “Safe Harbors Agreements” available under the ESA. These agreements assure landowners that they will not be required to undertake management activities beyond those specified in the agreement.
The recovery biologists considered private landowner participation pivotal to the recovery effort.
“A lot of our landowners like knowing they’re doing things to help recover a species,” said Bangs, especially when it involves lands like swamps, bogs and beaver ponds that landowners consider marginal in the first place.
Recovery was also due to the efforts of the Oregon Chub Working Group, which was formed in 1992, with representatives from the FWS, ODFW, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks, Oregon State University, the McKenzie River Trust, Grand Ronde Tribe and others. The Working Group ensured that the management of Oregon chub habitat was informed by the latest research, and provided a forum for discussion and collaboration on projects that aided recovery.
A formal delisting proposal will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a 60-day public comment period. The proposal includes a post-delisting monitoring plan and sets thresholds where protective actions would take place to make sure Oregon chub populations do not get into trouble again. Once public comments are analyzed, FWS will issue final rules in the Federal Register.
The Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) is one of several chub species in Oregon. Two of them – Borax Lake chub and Hutton tui chubs – are protected under the ESA. Others, including Alvord chub, blue chub, Umpqua chub, and several additional subspecies of tui chub, are not listed.
This recovery of the Oregon chub underscores the success of the Endangered Species Act, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Twenty-six species have been successfully recovered and removed from the endangered species list.
Oregon has been successful in recovering other Oregon-specific species as well. The Douglas County population of the Columbian white-tailed deer was delisted in 2003, and recent status reviews have recommended reclassification from endangered to the less critical threatened status for the Borax Lake chub and the Lower Columbia River population of Columbian white-tailed deer.
For more information, visit ODFW’s Oregon chub webpage.