By Christian Hill
The tiny Willamette Valley swimmer is removed from the Endangered Species List.
A little fish that makes its home in the backwaters of the Willamette River is making history.
State and federal officials are announcing this morning that the Oregon chub will soon become the first fish removed from the federal government’s list of endangered species.
Fewer than 1,000 of the silvery speckled minnows existed when the U.S. government listed the Oregon chub as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1993; it was promoted to threatened status in 2010. Today, officials say, its population has ballooned to about 160,000.
Officials said collaboration between a host of state, federal, tribal and nonprofit agencies was critical to the fish’s recovery, as was the involvement of numerous property owners who volunteered use of their land for the recovery efforts.
“This is an excellent example of how the Endangered Species Act is intended to function, working together with partners to recover endangered species,” said Paul Henson, state supervisor for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a news release announcing the pending delisting.
Federal and state officials are holding a news conference outside Springfield this morning to provide more details.
The delisting becomes final with approval of a plan for the ongoing monitoring of the Oregon chub. The plan is scheduled to be listed on the Federal Register on Thursday, which starts the required 60-day public comment period before it can be amended and approved.
Historically, schools of Oregon chub, which measure no more than 3 1/2 inches as adults, populated the Willamette River and its tributaries, hiding and thriving under the algae and other aquatic vegetation found in bogs, sloughs and beaver ponds.
Its numbers were decimated as the construction of dams and drainage of wetlands in the valley dried up much of that habitat. The introduction of non-native predators, including bass and bluegill, to local waterways further depleted its numbers.
At the time of the federal listing, the number of locations populated by the fish had shriveled from 29 to eight.
A plan for the Oregon chub’s recovery was adopted in 1998. A key component of the plan was landowners offering up the ponds and sloughs on their property to rebuild the Oregon chub’s population. Two-thirds of the total population of recovering fish live on these properties, said Paul Scheerer, a biologist with the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife. Sheerer has spent more than two decades working on the fish’s recovery.
He estimates ODFW has spent $2 million over the last two decades on monitoring, research and in-ground improvements to aid the recovery of the Oregon chub. Most of that money came from the federal government, he said.
Officials reached their target for delisting in 2012 when monitoring concluded at least 20 of the chub populations each had at least 500 fish and were stable or increasing for seven years. In addition, there needed to be at least four populations each in three river basins — the main stem Willamette River, the Middle Fork of the Willamette and the Santiam River.
“This is a big deal for us,” said Brian Bangs, another ODFW fish biologist. “We’ve been working on this for a long time. It’s been our passion for years.”