PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - For the first time, a fish has been removed from U.S. Endangered Species Act protection as federal officials declared on Tuesday that a tiny shimmering minnow found only in an Oregon valley was no longer in danger of extinction.
Millions of the two-inch (5-cm) fish, the Oregon chub, once swam in waters surrounding Western Oregon’s Willamette River. But their numbers declined sharply over the past century as wetlands were drained for development and due to predation by nonnative fish like largemouth bass.
Fewer than 1,000 remained in just eight wetlands in 1993 when the chub gained protection under the Endangered Species Act. The fish was upgraded from “endangered” to “threatened” status in 2004, as populations began to rebound.
Today, more than 150,000 chubs are estimated in 80 sites along the river valley because of recovery efforts like restoring water flows, floodplain reconstruction and stocking in private ponds.
The fish’s resurgence shows that habitat improvement and species recovery efforts can succeed even in areas heavily impacted by agriculture and urban development, said Paul Henson, Oregon supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
“This shows the public that you can recover species and do it in a way that works with local communities in a positive way, as opposed to being a contentious big event,” Henson said.
The Oregon chub is not fished commercially, and improvements to its habitat could be made at minimal cost to private landowners, both factors that aided in efforts to boost its population, said Paul Sheerer, leader of the native fish project for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
State officials had been cheering the Oregon chub’s recovery as other fish – including a trout and a sucker - also showed signs of recovery under the Endangered Species Act, Sheerer said.
“It wasn’t really a race, but we were feeling a little pressure, thinking maybe we won’t be the first,” Sheerer said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe was scheduled to formally announce the removal of the Oregon minnow from the endangered species list at an event on Tuesday, but his flight from Washington, D.C., was canceled due to snow.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler