Lawsuit says feds dragging feet instead of protecting tiny rare Nevada fish
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)
Federal wildlife managers face growing pressure to decide whether to protect a tiny rare fish unique to Nevada under the Endangered Species Act.
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.
On Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force the agency to decide whether to protect two rare fish in the Southwest: Utah’s least chub and Nevada’s Fish Lake Valley tui chub.
The lawsuit, filed in a Tucson-based federal court, says the Service is violating federal law by delaying action on the imperiled fishes, which are threatened by groundwater pumping in a region experiencing catastrophic drought.
“These small fishes are an incredibly important part of the Great Basin’s natural heritage, and they’re teetering on the brink of extinction,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center. “The longer the Service waits to protect these fishes the greater the chance that they’ll disappear forever. We’re in the midst of an extinction crisis and these little minnows are running out of time.”
Last year, wildlife managers announced a one-year status review to determine whether the Fish Lake Valley tui chub ultimately qualifies for federal protection after finding credible evidence that groundwater levels in the valley have depleted, endangering the rare Nevada Fish.
Groundwater pumping in Fish Lake Valley is done primarily to grow alfalfa, a water-intensive crop used to feed cattle and other livestock. Other possible threats to the tui chub’s water supply include proposed lithium mines and geothermal projects that have the potential to affect groundwater flow, say conservationists.
The least chub is a gold-colored minnow, typically less than 2.5 inches long, endemic to Utah’s Bonneville Basin. Major threats to the least chub include proposed groundwater pumping threatening springs the chubs depend on, said Kemppinen.
The Center sought Endangered Species Act protections for the least chub and the Fish Lake Valley tui chub in 2021. However, the agency responsible for making a final determination on whether the two fishes should be protected under the ESA has failed to make a decision.
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