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Chub - 1st off endangered list

Measuring depthOregon chub are small floodplain minnows that live in sloughs, swamps, beaver ponds, and low-gradient tributaries. Researchers report those off-channel habitats were dramatically reduced by the construction of Willamette River flood control dams, channelization of the river for navigation, and draining wetlands for agriculture and development.

That created prime habitats for nonnative game fish, such as bass and bluegill, which prey on the minnows. Due to the threats, the chub was listed as endangered in 1993, when only eight populations totaling fewer than 1,000 fish were known to exist. Now, 21 years later, there are over 80 populations and more than 150,000 fish. State and federal officials are announced on Tuesday that the tiny minnow that lives only in Oregon backwaters is the first fish ever taken off U.S. Endangered Species Act protection because it is no longer threatened with extinction.

“This success is 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,” according to Paul Scheerer, an Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife biologist. “This partnership includes Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks, Oregon Department of Transportation, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, local municipalities, numerous private landowners, watershed councils, the McKenzie River Trust, and others. In contrast to high profile species such as the Pacific salmon or the grey wolf, most of the recovery activities have occurred under the radar screen with little impact to the local communities.”

Over the last two decades, biologists worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage flows and temperatures to benefit native fish including Oregon chub, coordinating with the McKenzie River Trust to identify high quality habitats for land acquisition, working with the Middle Fork Willamette, Santiam, and Long Tom Watershed Councils to identify private landowners who were willing to enhance and protect chub habitats, and coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Oregon Parks and Recreation and Oregon Department of Transportation to protect, enhance, and create habitat on lands that they manage.

“Through extensive surveys at more than 1,000 locations in the basin, our team has discovered many previously undocumented populations,” Scheerer notes. Historical records of the species’ were rare, as no targeted surveys occurred until the 1980s. “This effort was, at times, like finding a needle in a haystack, but persistence has paid its rewards,” he added.

Coordinated efforts with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s and ODFW’s private lands biologists helped identify properties and willing landowners and to acquire funding under various Farm Bill programs, like the Wetland Reserve Program, to re-create high quality habitat that has been lost over the years.

Oregon chub has benefited from the protections afforded by the ESA, as have countless other species of fish, birds, amphibians, and mammals that also depend on these off-channel habitats. However, the status of this species and others like it depends on a concerted community effort to understand, protect, and restore the natural river processes that these species require for continued survival.

“This community effort is what made Oregon chub recovery possible,” Scheerer says.

Image above: Researchers found chub in six river drainages, including the McKenzie.


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