Living Rivers - Colorado Riverkeeper
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Living Rivers Currents
January 17, 2002

Native Fish: Recovery or Rhetoric?

LRC V2, N1, January 2002

The freshwater fishes of the Colorado River watershed are among the most imperiled animals in the United States. In response to mandates of the Endangered Species Act, three endangered fish recovery programs have been implemented in the Colorado basin since 1988. Despite more than $100 million invested so far, these programs have generated few results. So this fall, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a draft set of recovery goals which, if approved, would lower the federal standard by which these fish could be removed from the endangered species list.

LIVING RIVERS and several other groups were outraged, and submitted comments opposing the adoption of these weaker, and ecologically dangerous standards. The USFWS proposed to emphasize the use of hatchery fish to be dumped in depleted habitats. Success will be proclaimed by merely continuously restocking the area with a given number of hatchery fish to maintain an arbitrary population count. Emphasis will not be placed on habitat restoration to allow for self-reproducing populations.

“Species cannot be perpetuated without appropriate habitats, and an aquatic habitat cannot persist without some ecosystem order in its surroundings,” said Dr. Joseph Shannon, an aquatic ecologist at Northern Arizona University. “The water and power interests control the flow of the Colorado River; ecosystem restoration and native fish recovery are not their priorities. I question if this is the sentiment of the majority of the public.”

The state of Colorado is leading the charge to advance the weaker standards. Kent Holsinger, Assistant Director for Colorado’s Division of Water Resources has stated that Colorado is committed to maximizing power generation to finance irrigation, and to diverting more water for development and industrial use. He has declared his state’s intent to fight any federal regulations that may infringe on these objectives.

The prestigious Desert Fishes Council is also concerned, especially over the limited scientific input sought in the preparation of these new guidelines. This international society of academic, government and private organizations, adopted a resolution in November 2001, asking that the USFWS redraft the recovery goals based upon the results of a rigorous, independent, scientific review process.

But if Holsinger and others have their way, it may not be long before visitors to the Grand Canyon will see truckloads of hatchery-raised fish emptied into the Colorado river because agencies were unwilling to work to restore their habitat. Should this trend continue, the same approach could become commonplace with other endangered species—birds, mammals, reptiles—born in captivity and placed in unsuitable habitats to meet the objectives of the government’s bean counters.

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Last Update: October 30, 2007

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