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Imperiled Rio Grande Fish Move Toward Needed Endangered Species Act Protections

March 16, 2016
Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615 tjones@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Wildlife   Rio Grande chub, Rio Grande sucker
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Imperiled Rio Grande Fish Move Toward Needed Endangered Species Act Protections

Unchecked Water Withdrawals and Climate Change Are Pushing Species Toward Extinction
Contact: Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615 tjones@wildearthguardians.org

Additional Contact:

Jen Pelz, (303) 884-2702,jpelz@wildearthguardians.org

Washington, DC—TheU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that it will considerprotecting the Rio Grande sucker and Rio Grande chub under the EndangeredSpecies Act (ESA). As part of ongoing efforts to protect the iconic Rio Grandeand the river’s full compliment of native species, WildEarth Guardianssubmitted scientific petitions to the Service requesting protections for the imperiledRio Grande sucker in 2014 and the Rio Grande chub in 2013.

“Native fish arestruggling in the beleaguered Rio Grande,” said Taylor Jones, endangered speciesadvocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The dire circumstances of these smallspecies indicate bigger problems we need to address, and should be wake-up callto take better care of our river.”

The Rio Grandesucker, Rio Grande chub, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout evolved side-by-side tofill different roles and niches in the Rio Grande ecosystem. All three nativespecies are at risk because of dams, diversions, and human land uses, which arealtering the once mighty Rio Grande and making it inhospitable for native fish.Climate change is exacerbating the serious threats to the species, includingdrought. Increased temperatures, increased human demand for water, and decreasedspring runoff are all projected throughout the Southwest.

“The list of imperiled fish along the Rio Grande will continue togrow without a new approach to ensure the river has a right to its own water,”said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director at WildEarth Guardians. “We cannotcontinue to sacrifice entire fish species to protect unsustainable agriculturaldiversions.”

The Rio Grandeis one of the top ten most endangered rivers in the world due to significantmanmade modifications. Diversion of water from the Rio Grande for agriculturaland domestic use has radically changed the character of the river, fragmentingand destroying habitat. Channelization and livestock grazing have removedbankside vegetation, and low stream flows have raised the water temperature.Dams separate fish populations and make it impossible for them to recolonize historichabitat. Because of over-extraction of water, the river channel narrowed 30meters from 1998 to 2008.

As a result ofthese myriads threats, populations of both petitioned fish plummeted from historicnumbers. The Rio Grande chub’s population has declined by as much as 75 percent.Though the Rio Grande sucker was once common in Colorado and New Mexico, it nowpersists in only two small naturally occurring populations in Colorado, and NewMexico populations are declining.

“The U.S. Fishand Wildlife Service should quickly make a final listing decision for thesespecies,” continued Jones. “The Service has already far exceeded the statutorytime limit to make a decision, and time is of the essence.”

Protection underthe ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percentof plants and animals protected by the law exist today. The law is especiallyimportant as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species aredisappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due tohuman activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinctby 2006 if not for ESA protections.

Rio Grande sucker. Photo: Colorado Department of Natural Res
Rio Grande sucker. Photo: Colorado Department of Natural Resources

Rio Grande chubs. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Rio Grande chubs. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Rio Grande chub and sucker habitat on a restored tributary s
Rio Grande chub and sucker habitat on a restored tributary stream of the Rio Grande. Photo: WildEarth Guardians


Other Contact
Jen Pelz, (303) 884-2702, jpelz@wildearthguardians.org