Today is Endangered Species Day | SummitDaily.com
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Today is Endangered Species Day

JULIE SUTOR
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hoping Americans will take time today to reflect on habitat protection and biodiversity. The agency and several conservation organizations will observe Endangered Species Day today to recognize conservation programs under way nationwide.

President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973 in response to the extinction of various species of wildlife due to human development. The purpose of the act is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems they depend on.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association share responsibility for administering the Endangered Species Act. In its 37 years, the law has helped prevent the extinction of hundreds of species.

“The Endangered Species Act is the nation’s premier law protecting biodiversity today,” said Rowan Gould, acting FWS director. “The bald eagle, the American alligator and the gray wolf are all species which once found themselves on the list, facing the brink of extinction, but have successfully rebounded.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service works with other federal agencies, state, local and tribal governments, environmental organizations, industry groups, academia, the scientific community and members of the public to help conserve the nation’s imperiled fish, wildlife and plants.

Colorado is home to 16 endangered animal species and 13 endangered plants. Of the animals, four are fish species native to the Upper Colorado River Basin, including the Yampa, Green, Gunnison and Colorado rivers.

The bonytail, humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker have all suffered severe population declines due to dams and water diversions, water depletions, water pollution, and introduction of nonnative species. Several agencies, including the FWS and the states of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, have come together in a collaborative conservation effort dubbed the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The program, which came into existence in 1988, works to improve endangered fish habitat and grow their populations. Activities include everything from assuring sufficient river flows to stocking young fish to monitoring the movement of individual fish with electronic tags. The program has also built fish passages around several dams and diversions.

“These fish now have unimpeded access to 340 miles of habitat in the Colorado and Gunnison rivers,” said Debbie Felker, education coordinator for the Recovery Program. “It’s really important to the pikeminnow, since they migrate to spawn.”

Colorado pikeminnow populations have shown encouraging progress in recent years. In the fall, Recovery Program biologists reported a sixfold increase in the number of young Colorado pikeminnow collected last summer, compared to the average catch in the previous 18 years in a 120-mile stretch of the Green River below Dinosaur National Monument. Researchers attribute last summer’s gains to a combination of higher summer base flows from Flaming Gorge Dam and a decrease in the number of nonnative smallmouth bass.

Nonnative fish management efforts have reduced the number of smallmouth bass in that stretch of the Green River by two thirds since 2004. Removing larger, nonnative fish prevents them from eating the larvae of young Colorado pikeminnow.

In 2008 and 2009, the entire Upper Colorado River Basin experienced a return to higher and cooler river flows and smallmouth bass reproduction was greatly diminished in all rivers.

“Predictions for lower-than-average flows in 2010 favor the nonnative species,” Recovery Program director Tom Chart said. “This means that researchers need to make the most of their sampling efforts while the Recovery Program’s partners do what they can do deliver flows that will help benefit the native species.”

Such multipronged recovery efforts have allowed continued development of Upper Colorado water resources. In other words, the measures keep the Endangered Species Act from standing in the way of efforts to divert river water for agriculture, municipal needs and other uses. Since 1988, actions implemented by the Recovery Program have facilitated compliance with the conservation law for 1,711 water projects depleting more than 2.8 million acre-feet of water in the Upper Basin.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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