When the U.S. Endangered Species Act was adopted by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, the law’s intent was to prevent extinction of plant and animal species imperiled by unchecked economic growth and development.
Since then the ESA has resulted in the listing of more than 2,000 plants and animals. Some, like the Bald Eagle and the Gray Wolf, were likely saved from oblivion due to the law. But there is something not widely known: Of the more than 2,000 endangered species listed, less than 30 have been removed because of improved populations.
With less than 1 percent of the listed species making a turnaround, it could be argued that the Endangered Species Act hasn’t produced viable results. In fact, it could even be argued that the act serves little utility at all; it can’t offer a guarantee of survival, and inflicts economic hardship on communities that have the misfortune of being home for an endangered plant or animal.
Which brings us to last Thursday’s front-page story, “Least chub loses potential endangered species status.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Aug. 25 that it had removed Utah’s least chub from a candidate waiting list. The fish and wildlife service said statewide conservation efforts have successfully reversed the decline of the fish, prompting its removal.
Barely over two inches long and thought to be, as a species, a few million years old, Iotichthys Phlegethontis hails from ancient Lake Bonneville. Although the lake disappeared several thousand years ago, the least chub found a way to thrive in tributaries around the Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, Sevier Lake and other water sources along the Wasatch Front, including numerous springs in Tooele, Juab and Millard counties.
But by the late 1970s they had mostly disappeared due to urbanization, water development projects, livestock impacts and predation. In the 1990s, the fish could only be found in six small spring-fed pools in Millard and Juab counties. In 2007 environmental groups and the Goshute Indian Tribe petitioned for the fish to be listed as a threatened or endangered species.
But in the fall of 2011, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Deseret Chemical Depot (today’s Tooele Army Depot South Area), began a unique collaborative project. The DWR planted some 500 least chubs in a pair of ponds on DCD property, which had been rehabilitated for the fish by DCD employees. That introduction was done to hopefully establish a “refuge population” for one of the six remaining vestiges of this ancient fish at Mona Springs in Juab County.
Thanks to the initiative by the DWR and DCD, the little fish is thriving in the pond and will be used to restock Mona Springs.
The local least chub population has improved enough that it is no longer a candidate for an ESA listing. And that’s good news, due to the potential impacts a listing would have on development, agricultural and related activities on public and private lands. We do question, however, if all threats to the fish have been effectively removed or reduced for the long term.
Because of that doubt, it is hoped that the groups responsible for improving the least chub’s survival will continue their vigilance to protect the fish. Without such care, an ancient remnant of Lake Bonneville may regrettably disappear — forever.