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Improving Streams for Species Recovery
Niangua darters are small fish that live in clear, silt-free creeks of the Ozark uplands in west central Missouri. The creation of reservoirs, which destroy stream habitat and stop upstream movement of fish, led to the Niangua darter’s initial decline. Continued stream deterioration due to low-water crossings, sand and gravel removal, loss of streamside vegetation, fertilizer and pesticide run-off, and waste from humans and livestock threaten the darter’s existence.
Over 95 percent of Niangua darter range is privately owned with cattle grazing the predominant land use. Livestock that graze along streambanks and use streams as their water source degrade stream quality. They remove plants on streambanks causing erosion and increased sediment loads. Run-off from cattle pastures carries manure that increases the stream’s nitrogen load causing algal blooms and low oxygen levels.
The Service’s Missouri Private Lands Office worked with farmers and provided cost-share incentives for stream improvements within the watershed that supports Niangua darters. We combined our dollars with Missouri Department of Conservation funds and Soil and Water Conservation District dollars to increase the amount of money available to landowners.
Cost-share projects have paid for in-stream structures to deflect current away from banks, tree planting and fencing to keep stream banks vegetated, and alternative water sources to keep cattle out of streams. The Service also worked with the USDA to compliment these measures by promoting rotational grazing systems, further reducing the impact from cattle on stream and water quality. To date there have been 21 Service Partners projects within the watersheds that support Niangua darters and 3 pending projects. These Niangua darter recovery projects improve property value for landowners, improve habitat quality for all species in these streams, and improve water quality for all downstream users.
Another major threat to Niangua darters are poorly designed low water road crossings with culverts or other openings that cannot accommodate stream flow. Currently, there are 32 problem crossings within Niangua darter range. Over the years, the streambed fills with silt and gravel upstream of the crossing. Plunge pools form downstream of the crossings, sometimes with drops of up to five feet. The result is a barrier to fish passage that fragments Niangua darter populations. In some cases, Niangua darters are not found upstream of the crossings, even though there is available suitable habitat. The crossings are problematic for the county and area residents because they frequently wash out and require repair. Service staff from the Fishery Assistance and Ecological Services programs are working with the Missouri Department of Conservation and county commissions, to replace these crossings with professionally designed bridges that can accommodate stream flow, help stabilize the stream channel, and minimize crossing maintenance. Three low- water crossings have been completed and another is in progress for completion in 2008. These projects are partially funded by the National Fish Passage Program, the State Wildlife Grant Program and the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. When federally declared funding disasters occur we also partner with the Federal and State Emergency Management Agencies to ensure new crossings support fish passage.
Replacing the crossings removes barriers to fish movement which opens new areas of suitable habitat to the species and allows for genetic exchange throughout a larger area. People have safer and more cost effective bridges.
One Service biologist remarked that when he began work on Niangua darter projects, people would run when they saw him coming. Now, those people are coming to him because they have seen direct benefits to their communities from the recovery projects.
Last updated: April 1, 2014