The 5-inch fish were once found at several isolated spring habitats in Esmeralda County but are now restricted to a single spring in Fish Lake Valley due to habitat loss as a result of groundwater depletion. (Nevada Department of Wildlife)
The Fish Lake Valley tui chub may gain federal protection after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday it will consider listing the species as endangered.
Following a three month review the service found that listing the rare desert minnow under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 “may be warranted.”
The agency announced its intention to launch a one-year status review to determine whether the Fish Lake Valley tui chub ultimately qualifies for federal protection, following a 2018 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The small 5-inch fish were once found at several isolated spring habitats in Esmeralda County but are now restricted to a single ranch spring in Fish Lake Valley due to habitat loss as a result of groundwater depletion which threatens to dry up the springs the fish relies on.
“I’m pleased that the Fish Lake Valley tui chub is getting a shot at the protection that’s needed to beat extinction,” said Krista Kemppinen, a senior scientist at the Center. “Over-exploitation of groundwater is a huge threat to these fish and the spring they call home.”
In a petition, conservationists said the last remaining population of the fish is “immediately and severely threatened by over-appropriation of groundwater due to agriculture” and “by groundwater development from the geothermal energy sector” and “rapidly-developing and water-intensive lithium mining interests.”
Federal wildlife managers agreed there is credible evidence indicating agriculture has caused groundwater levels in the valley to drop, which may reduce Fish Lake Valley tui chub habitat and harm the species.
Groundwater pumping in Fish Lake Valley is done primarily to grow alfalfa, a water-intensive crop used to feed cattle and other livestock, says Kemppinen.
Other possible threats to the tui chub’s water supply include proposed lithium mines and geothermal development projects, say conservationists.
“This decision highlights just how badly Nevada has failed to manage groundwater for irreplaceable species like the Fish Lake Valley tui chub,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center.
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