Two Texas Minnows Are Now Protected

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Two small minnows found only in Texas now have endangered status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also designated critical habitat for the fish in the Upper Brazos River Basin in 11 Texas counties.
     The listings are part of a 2011 settlement agreement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which resulted in a five-year work plan to speed listing decisions for hundreds of species across the nation. The sharpnose shiner and the smalleye shiner have been candidate species since 2002, the USFWS said in their statement. The CBD petitioned the agency to list the fish in 2004.
     The smalleye shiner has lost more than 50 percent of its historical range, and the sharpnose shiner has lost more than 70 percent, the USFWS said.
     "These two unique Texas fish are staring extinction in the face, and I'm relieved that they now have the Endangered Species Act protection that will keep them from disappearing forever," Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the CBD was quoted as saying in the group's response to the listing.
     Decreased water flow caused by drought, dams, groundwater pumping, climate change and salt-cedar encroachment affects the species' ability to reproduce successfully. "The fishes nearly went extinct in 2011 when Texas experienced the worst drought on record and the upper Brazos ran dry. State fish biologists rescued shiners and held a small population in captivity until river flows returned the following year," the CBD said.
     The two species are short-lived and need at least 171 miles of unobstructed, wide, shallow and flowing water to survive and reproduce. "The shiners currently have limited viability and increased vulnerability to extinction largely because of their stringent life-history requirement of long, wide, flowing rivers to complete their reproductive cycle," the action noted.
     The Upper Brazos has the required river segments to support reproduction, but low flow or no flow periods represent a serious threat to survival. "The eggs and larvae of these species require flowing water of sufficient velocity to keep their eggs and larvae afloat and alive. During periods of insufficient river flow, reproduction is not successful and no young are produced," according to the action.
     For that reason, the USFWS designated 623 river miles of critical habitat for the fish, unchanged from last year's proposal. Under the ESA, critical habitat consists of areas that contain the features required for the conservation of the species. Although special management considerations may be required, the designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership, establish a refuge or preserve, and does not affect actions by private landowners on their lands unless federal funding or permits would be required for those activities, the agency said.
     "The Service is committed to continuing to work with the local communities, landowners and water management districts to conserve the shiners and the Brazos River. A healthy Brazos River benefits not only the species, but also helps to ensure the continued vitality and way of life for the communities that are dependent upon it," Michelle Shaughnessy, Assistant Regional Director for Ecological Services in the USFWS's Southwest Region was quoted as saying in the agency's press release.The final listing rule and the critical habitat designation are effective Sept. 3.