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Federal Protections Sought for Rare Rio Grande Fish

January 21, 2020
Taylor Jones, (720) 443-2615, tjones@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Rivers, Wildlife   Rio Grande shiner
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #LivingRio, #LivingRivers, #ProtectWhatYouLove, #RethinkRivers, #RioGrande, #StopExtinction, #WildlandsForWildlife
Washington, D.C.— In an effort to stop extinction of native species and ensure a living Rio Grande and Pecos River for future generations, WildEarth Guardians today submitted a scientific petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the agency protect the Rio Grande shiner (Notropis jemezanus) under the federal Endangered Species Act.

This action comes in response to the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities, resulting in what some scientists term a “biological annihilation.” According to a recent United Nations report, over a million species are currently at risk of extinction. This petition is part of the launch of Guardians’ campaign to Stop Extinction in Western Rivers, which aims to protect the fragile arteries of life in the West. Freshwater ecosystems are in trouble worldwide: almost 40 percent of North American fishes are currently imperiled, and more than 20 percent of the world’s 10,000 freshwater species have become extinct, threatened, or endangered in recent decades.

“The Rio Grande is at the heart of the extinction crisis in the Southwestern U.S.,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program director for WildEarth Guardians “The Rio Grande shiner is just one of the many aquatic and riparian species that will not survive into the next century without a significant change in the way we value and manage rivers for both people and the environment.”

The shiner is a small freshwater fish endemic to the Rio Grande Basin. It once inhabited the Rio Grande throughout New Mexico and Texas and the Pecos River as far north as Santa Rosa, New Mexico, which is approximately 2,600 river miles. The Rio Grande shiner has already completely vanished from the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and from large portions of the Rio Grande along the Texas-Mexico border. The shiner is now only found in the Rio Grande in Texas between Presidio and Amistad Reservoir and in the Pecos River in New Mexico between the Fort Sumner Irrigation District Dam and Brantley Reservoir, which is about 500 river miles. Hence, it appears the shiner may now, at best, be occupying less than 20 percent of its historic range.  The largest remaining population is in the Pecos River, which is fragmented by dams and reservoirs.

Like other listed species in Southwestern rivers, including the infamous Rio Grande silvery minnow and the Pecos bluntnose shiner, the Rio Grande shiner is in danger because of dewatering of rivers for human uses; fragmentation of habitat because of dams and diversions; and artificial flow regimes that interrupt rivers’ natural dynamic cycles. At least two similar species, the phantom shiner and the Rio Grande bluntnose shiner, have gone extinct in the past century.

“We need to rethink the way we manage rivers,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “With so many native fish species disappearing in the Southwest, we need the Service to take action immediately.”

Guardians is seeking ESA protection for the fish species in order to protect it and its river habitat. Since the ESA’s enactment, 99 percent of listed species have avoided extinction, and hundreds more have been set on a path to recovery. Researchers estimate that, if not for ESA protections, 291 species would have gone extinct since the law’s passage in 1973.

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WildEarth Guardians (www.wildearthguardians.org) is a conservation non-profit whose mission is to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Guardians has offices in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, and over 275,000 members and supporters worldwide. Follow Guardians on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.

Other Contact
Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director, WildEarth Guardians, 303-884-2702, jpelz@wildearthguardians.org