A Safe Place for the Endangered Shasta Crayfish

Sutter Basin Conservation Bank

Being out competed by a non-native is no fun. Luckily, the endangered
Shasta crayfish is about to get a new home thanks to private landowners
and a Safe Harbor Agreement.
Photo courtesy of Koen G. H. Breedveld

The Shasta Crayfish is an endangered species native to northeast California. The crayfish is usually dark brown with spots of orange. They live in freshwater ponds and rivers in the Rocky Mountains and eat the slime that covers the rocks. The species is endangered, in part, because non-native Signal crayfish are taking over their range. With only a few small populations left, most Shasta crayfish may be gone in the near future.

The species needs help and thanks to willing landowners and the US. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Safe Harbor Program they are going to be getting some new space this summer. A Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) is a voluntary agreement involving private or other non-federal property owners whose actions contribute to the recovery of threatened or endangered species.  In exchange, participating property owners receive formal assurances from the Service that if they fulfill the conditions of the SHA, the Service will not require any additional or different management activities by the participants without their consent.

With this project the Service hopes to encourage recovery of the Shasta crayfish and restoration of its habitat. They want to create places where the non-native and more aggressive crayfish can’t reach this endangered species.

Now there is a SHA to help Shasta Crayfish between the Kern family, the Springs River Foundation, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Service. The Kern family has a cold, spring-fed pond with a volcanic gravel and rock bottom on their property which is the perfect habitat for the Shasta crayfish. No non-native crayfish or other fish live in the pond.  The Kern family is allowing the endangered crayfish to be put in their pond, and with the SHA, they know that in the future they can have them removed with no penalty.

Maria Ellis works for the Spring Rivers Foundation, which works to save endangered species like the Shasta crayfish. Ellis thought it would be a good idea to use the Kern pond for the Shasta Crayfish. Because of her, this particular safe harbor was able to happen. “The SHA executed between the Kern family and the Service is a watershed event for the endangered Shasta crayfish,” Ellis remarked. “Although it occurred quietly and without fanfare, this agreement is precedent setting, and opens the door to a more hopeful future for the species. Thanks to the Kern family and all at the Service for making this happen.”

Sutter Basin Conservation Bank

A Safe Harbor Agreement is used like an insurance policy. Landowners
and partners enter into it knowing they can do something good for
endangered species and not be penalized for it in the future. The Kern
family, the California Department of Fish and Game, Springs River
Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined together at the
pond where the endangered Shasta crayfish is to get a new home
this summer. Photo courtesy of Spring Rivers Ecological Sciences

The California Department of Fish and Game is also doing a SHA for this project, because Shasta crayfish is also listed endangered with the State of California.  They are currently working to get that in place so the landowner will not face State regulatory hurdles in the future.

Now that the federal SHA is in place, the Service will remove the last few endangered Shasta crayfish from another location that will soon be overtaken with the non-native Signal crayfish and relocate them in the Kern’s pond.

The Kern family is enjoying having the crayfish brought to their pond. “It is rare that the opportunity to play a direct role in the preservation of a species comes along,” explains landowner Michael Kerns. “When we recognized the opportunity to participate in the Shasta crayfish effort with Spring River and the Service, the family easily decided that it was a great use of our pond. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the “kids.”

The Safe Harbor Program is benefiting endangered species like the Shasta crayfish. It’s also a great way to get people involved with the recovery of endangered species.

Story by Sabrina D’Souza, USFWS Intern
May 17, 2012