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Conservation and Recovery of the Endangered Topeka Shiner
Photo Credit: USFWS
The Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka) was once a common fish, making its home in small to mid-size prairie streams throughout the central United States. The presence of this small minnow, which grows to only 3 inches long, has declined significantly over the last 40 to 50 years. Habitat destruction, sedimentation, and changes in water quality are thought to have caused the population decline. The creation of impoundments on small prairie streams has also contributed to reduced Topeka shiner numbers.
In 2005, staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Kansas Ecological Services Field Office, undertook a pilot project to inventory and assess road crossing structures in the West Branch Mill Creek Watershed, which provides a Kansas stronghold for the federally endangered species. In 2007, the Field Office was awarded a fish passage grant to support the continuation of the project, which found that nearly 50 percent of the road crossings surveyed were likely impassable for small, native freshwater fishes including the Topeka shiner. Since then, staff has worked to educate various federal, state, and local agencies groups about road crossings that will better facilitate fish passage.
The pilot project has continued to reap benefits. The project stimulated a Master student’s research project through the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Kansas State University, with funding from a Kansas Department of Transportation grant. The research used mark-recapture methods to determine fish passage efficiency at concrete box culverts and low-water crossings, and evaluated the upstream passage of four fish species, including the Topeka shiner, through three simulated crossing designs (box culverts, round corrugated culverts, and native rock riffles) at water velocities of 0.1 to 1.1 meter/second in an experimental stream.
In addition, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism investigated Topeka shiner populations in the Clear Fork Creek, a stream now isolated from other Topeka shiner watersheds by reservoir construction. During the survey, Topeka shiners were found stacked up at one low-water crossing, ready to breed and unable to move any further upstream. The Field Office, with Wayne Stancill, the Fish Passage Engineer in the Service’s Mountain Prairie Region, met with the Pottawatomie County Engineer about the crossing. As a result, Pottawatomie County applied for and received a fish passage grant to replace the structure. This project is expected to be completed this summer.
Interest in fish passage and the availability of fish passage grants has continued to increase among other county governments, both with and without Topeka shiners. Riley County replaced one structure in a Topeka shiner watershed in 2011 using a Service fish passage grant, and has proposed several other projects.
Finally, the Service, with Kansas Association of Counties and the University of Kansas Transportation Institute, is sponsoring a 2012 workshop on conservation culvert installation. Kansas counties with Topeka shiner populations will be targeted to attend the workshop.
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