Finally, the First Fish Ever Is Taken Off the Endangered Species List

The recovery of a tiny fish signals good news for area waterways and proof that, when heeded, protective measures can make a difference

(Henry Horenstein/CORBIS)
smithsonian.com

Here's a spot of bright news in the usually depressing field of wildlife conservation: A tiny minnow in Oregon has become the first fish to ever be removed from Endangered Species Act protection due to recovery. On Tuesday, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service announced that the Oregon chub is finally in the clear after decades of drastically low population numbers.

The three-inch-long swimmers live only in western Oregon’s Willamette River Valley, where they thrived in beaver ponds, flooded marshes and backwater sloughs. But these habitats were rapidly shrinking as backwaters were encroached upon and drained for agriculture, urban development and flood mitigation. Non-native predators like bullfrogs and bass often ate up the fish that did eke out a home.

Only 1,000 Oregon chubs were known to exist by 1993, when the fish were formally listed as endangered. “Today, the population stands at more than 140,000 fish at 80 locations with a diverse range of habitats,” reports the Pacific Region Fish and Wildlife Service. The development suggests that the overall health of those area waterways is on the upswing.

Officials credit the recovery to collaboration between scientists and government agencies, as well as private, tribal and public landowners. Regulation helped to preserve the fish' habitat, but chub were also reintroduced into backwaters to help bolster their numbers. Recent progress has been steady: just five years ago, they were upgraded to threatened. Now, they’re the poster-fish for species recovery.

“This doesn’t mean that all of a sudden it’s hands off, and we never need to do anything for them,” Paul Henson, Oregon director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife said, according to The Seattle Times. “But we can at least put them back in the group of species that need attention but don’t need to go into the emergency room of the (Endangered Species Act).”

As the Times points out, chub conservation faced fewer obstacles than many other species whose existence is threatened by bigger, especially economic, forces. Nonetheless, the minnows now join 28 other successfully recovered species once placed on the Endangered Species List. But we’ve still got a ways to go. The Endangered Species Act protects over 1,300 vulnerable plant and animal species in the United States alone. 

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