Rare Fish Saved From Extinction

07 December 2015 | Center for Biological Diversity News Release

PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the removal of the Modoc sucker, a fish native to the Pit River basin in southern Oregon and northeastern California, from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The sucker’s recovery was due to habitat restoration, including fencing livestock out of Pit River tributaries and removal of invasive fish.

“The Endangered Species Act successfully prevented the extinction of the Modoc sucker and spurred habitat restoration that has allowed this native fish to recover,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By reducing impacts from cattle grazing and ending stocking of invasive fish, management agencies and landowners have allowed suckers to repopulate former habitats in the Pit River and Goose Lake watersheds.”

The Modoc sucker was granted federal protection as an endangered species in 1985, due to impacts such as stream bank erosion from cattle grazing and predation from nonnative brown trout. At the time of listing, the sucker was only found in seven streams in the Turner Creek and Ash Creek sub-basins of the Pit River, occupying just 13 miles of habitat. The population estimate in 1985 was about 1,300. Modoc suckers have since been found to inhabit the Thomas Creek tributary to Goose Lake in Oregon. Their range has expanded to 43 miles of habitat along 12 streams in three watersheds, with the species now occupying all of its confirmed historical range. The current population estimate is more than 2,600 suckers.

Since the sucker was protected, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has stopped stocking invasive brown trout in streams in the Pit River basin, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife no longer stocks brown trout in the Goose Lake sub-basin. The nonnative brown trout predate on Modoc suckers. Modoc sucker populations now appear to be stable, and the species occupies most of the available suitable habitat in the Turner Creek, Ash Creek and Thomas Creek watersheds. The Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the status of the Modoc sucker for 10 years to make sure populations remain stable.

“Modoc sucker populations appear to be stable and there has been a significant range increase,” said Miller. “But given climate trends and increasing likelihood of drought, the status of the species will need to be monitored closely.”

Background
Modoc suckers grow to be about 3 inches long and have fleshy lips for catching invertebrates and scraping algae from stream bottoms. They live in streams at elevations below fast-flowing cold trout streams and above lower-flow areas that support warm-water fish. Adult suckers are greenish-brown with cream bellies; males develop showy orange bands and fins in mating season.

Modoc suckers are now found in 10 streams in the Ash Creek and Turner Creek sub-basins of the Pit River in Modoc and Lassen counties, California, and in three streams in the Thomas Creek tributary of Goose Lake in southern Oregon. These streams are within the Modoc National Forest in northeastern California and the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon, as well as on private grazing lands.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies and landowners initiated many restoration actions to save the sucker, including fencing out livestock, stabilizing stream banks, improving stream-side vegetation and placing boulders and woody debris in streams to create better habitat. Extensive landowner outreach by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and state agencies improved livestock grazing practices and helped restore healthy stream banks.

The Modoc sucker is the second fish ever to be taken off the endangered species list following the recovery and delisting of the Oregon chub in February 2015. Both fishes benefited from on-the-ground habitat improvements, scientific recovery plans and officially designated critical habitat protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Contact: Jeff Miller, , jmiller@biologicaldiversity.org


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