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Rare Rio Grande fish passes first hurdle on path to recovery

March 24, 2021
Tricia Snyder, WildEarth Guardians, 505-396-1752, tsnyder@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Rivers, Wildlife   Rio Grande shiner
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #LivingRio, #LivingRivers, #PressStatement, #ProtectWhatYouLove, #RioGrande, #StopExtinction
Washington, D.C.— Yesterday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) issued its initial finding that the imperiled Rio Grande shiner may warrant Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) protections, based on a petition submitted last year by WildEarth Guardians. Specifically, the Service noted that the petition presented substantial information that listing may be warranted due to threats to the shiner from dewatering, habitat fragmentation, changes in stream morphology and flow regimes, and climate change.

WildEarth Guardians filed the petition for listing protections for the Rio Grande shiner in January 2020 as part of the launch of its campaign to Stop Extinction in Western Rivers, which aims to protect the fragile arteries of life in the West. The campaign is intended to raise awareness about rivers in the West by focusing on species, such as the Rio Grande shiner, who rely upon healthy freshwater ecosystems for continued survival. Across the world freshwater ecosystems are in trouble: 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.

“It’s past time to rethink how we manage and value rivers and the Rio Grande is a perfect example of why,” said Tricia Snyder, Rio Grande campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “Generations of plant and wildlife communities have relied on this living river, now at the heart of the extinction crisis in the Southwestern US. Without a serious course correction in water management we risk permanent ecological damage and forever losing species like the Rio Grande shiner.”

The decision of the Service, called the “90-day positive finding” is the first step of a multi-step process for species to receive ESA protection. The Service will next evaluate all potential threats to the Rio Grande shiner during a 12-month status review using the “best available science” standard pursuant to the ESA.

“WildEarth Guardians is encouraged by this first step taken by the Service towards protecting the Rio Grande shiner, but we know there is a long road ahead,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “In recent years, it has taken more than a decade for imperiled species to go through the entire ESA listing process and the Rio Grande shiner needs action much more swiftly to prevent its extinction. We are optimistic that a new administration understands the urgency of the biodiversity crisis and will devote more resources to ensure listing decisions are made while preventing extinction is still an option.”

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.

Rio Grande shiner.

Rio Grande shiner. Photo by Chad Thomas, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Other Contact
Lindsay Larris, WildEarth Guardians, (310) 923-1465, llarris@wildearthguardians.org