On Tuesday, a 3-½ inch minnow found only in Oregon’s Willamette Valley made a big splash. No longer threatened with extinction, the Oregon chub became the first fish proposed for removal from the Endangered Species list.
We listed the Oregon chub as endangered in 1993 for several reasons. Mainly, its native floodplain habitat was disappearing, and the fish was losing out to such nonnative fish as the bass and bluegill. In 1993, just eight known populations with fewer than 1,000 fish were known to exist. Thanks to lots of hard work, the population now stands at more than 150,000 fish at 80 locations. Just stunning!
The chub’s recovery is something we’re proud of. But what’s even better is how it recovered.
Here are some key lessons from this success:
Involve others: The success of the Oregon chub recovery is a direct result of the many, diverse and often nontraditional partners involved. Through the power of partnerships, we recovered a species in just over 20 years. I guess that’s why it’s the first. Without such groups as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, McKenzie River Trust, Oregon Chub Working Group, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and many others, recovery would still be a distant future. That is how the ESA should work: people and government agencies cooperating to recover an endangered species.
Think beyond the plan: Recovery of a species is a dynamic process requiring adaptive management, meaning we continually evaluate, monitor and adapt the recovery plan. And if opportunities not in the recovery plan are discovered, by all means we take must advantage of them. In this case, we worked closely with the Corps of Engineers to develop minimum dam outflow targets. That water helps sustain downstream floodplain habitat, reduce the threat of habitat loss and increase population connectivity. While the ideas of habitat protection and connectivity were in the plan, this specific means of achieving them was not. However, the efforts of the Corps are key to the recovery.
Get off the paper and get out on the ground: We rely on our recovery plans to identify the science needed to conserve a species, but unless we take action, the species’ status will never improve. We must seek out opportunities to change things on the ground. In the case of the Oregon chub, seven of the abundant Oregon Chub populations are on privately owned land where landowners have signed conservation agreements or are enrolled in our Safe Harbor Program that encourages private landowners to introduce and manage for chub. The Willamette Valley is 97% privately owned and without engaging landowners, recovery would not be possible. It took the willingness to knock on doors and directly engage with the public to make it happen.
The Oregon chub is the latest proof that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) works. We need to celebrate this minnow as it swims into the ESA record books.