A tiny minnow that lives only in Oregon is set to become the first fish ever taken off U.S. Endangered Species Act protection because it is no longer threatened with extinction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that the Oregon chub has recovered, 21 years after it went on the endangered species list. The service's proposal goes through a 60-day public comment period before becoming final.
The fish had practically disappeared from Oregon's Willamette Valley as the swampy backwaters it inhabits were drained to create farms and cities over the past century and a-half.
State biologist Brian Bangs says unlike Pacific salmon, the Oregon chub was relatively easy to save because it doesn't get in the way of huge economic forces, such as logging and hydroelectric power.
News release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife:
Oregon chub first fish to be recovered under ESA
CORVALLIS, Ore – 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 at www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/species/chub.asp.
U.S. Department of Interior news release:
Oregon Chub Proposed as First Fish to be Removed from Endangered Species List Due to Recovery
State, federal and private partnerships vital to ESA success story
PORTLAND, Ore. – Culminating a 20-year partnership with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers and private landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to remove the Oregon chub from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act. If finalized, the chub would be the first fish delisted due to recovery.
“For two decades, this extraordinary partnership that includes federal and state agencies, landowners and others stakeholders has served as a model of how we can use the Endangered Species Act as a tool to bring a species back from the brink of extinction,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “The success we have had with the Oregon chub reinforces that, working together, we can recover species that currently are threatened or endangered.”
Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, added: “This is an excellent example of how the Endangered Species Act is intended to function – partners working together to recover an endangered species. This is a tremendous success that came about from a great vision and a lot of hard work on behalf of the Service and our partners at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as private landowners and many others.”
The Oregon chub, a small minnow found only in the Willamette River Basin in floodplain habitats with little or no water flow, was listed as endangered in 1993 and reclassified as threatened in 2010. The primary factors that threatened Oregon chub were loss of habitat and predation by nonnative fishes. These threats have been lessened over the last 20 years through collaborative partnerships to restore and acquire habitat, promote natural water flows, and conduct education and outreach to local landowners and residents; efforts that were accompanied by the reintroduction of chub into historical habitat.
Just eight known populations with fewer than 1,000 fish were known to exist at the time of listing. Today, the population stands at more than 150,000 fish at 80 locations with a diverse range of habitats.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber celebrated the announcement, and credited the successful cooperation between the Service and its partners with improving the conservation landscape for all Oregonians.
"I couldn’t be prouder that the first fish species proposed to be delisted under the Endangered Species Act is an Oregon native,” said Governor 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."
The Endangered Species Act, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary, has helped to stop the slide toward extinction for hundreds of species. Twenty-six species have been successfully recovered and removed from the Endangered Species List.
Along with the delisting proposal, the Service also is proposing to remove the species’ critical habitat designation throughout its range.
“The partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was instrumental in Oregon chub recovery efforts,” said Roy Elicker, Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Their funding of monitoring and restoration activities, combined with the coordination of the safe harbor agreement to protect landowners, are big reasons why we’re celebrating this recovery.”
Added Paul Henson, State Supervisor, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office: “While the chub isn’t an iconic fish species that many think about in the Pacific Northwest, it is a very important part of the ecosystem and indicator of good water quality and ecosystem health. By successfully recovering the chub, we’re helping many iconic wildlife species and improving the watershed for all Oregonians.”
The Army Corps of Engineers has contributed significant resources to the monitoring and successful management of many Oregon chub populations on their lands and below the multiple flood control and hydroelectric dams associated with their Willamette Valley Project.
Other partners include the Service’s Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, USDA Forest Service’s Willamette National Forest, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Transportation, McKenzie River Trust, Cities of Salem and Stayton, and Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, all of which manage habitats that support Oregon chub populations.
Many private landowners have contributed to the recovery of Oregon chub by managing habitats on their lands, and, in some cases, creating habitat to support introductions of the species on their property.
Many of the privately owned introduction sites were created or restored under the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Oregon chub populations exist on the William L. Finley and Ankeny Refuges, with Ankeny supporting the largest known population in the Willamette River Basin.
The Service now has up to one year to determine whether the proposal should become final. The Service will open a 60-day public comment period on Feb. 6, 2014, to allow the public to review and comment on the proposal and provide additional information. The final decision whether or not to delist the Oregon chub will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available.
For more information about the Oregon chub and the Federal Register notice, click here.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit fws.gov.