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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

March 30, 2001

Contact:  Vernon Tabor, 785-539-3474
               Elizabeth Slown, 505/249-6909
               Victoria Fox, 505/248-6455
               Ken Collins, 918/581-7458

SERVICE DESIGNATES CRITICAL HABITAT
FOR ARKANSAS RIVER SHINER

In response to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 1,148 miles of rivers in four states, including 300 feet of habitat bordering both shorelines, as critical habitat for the Arkansas River shiner, a threatened native fish. The designation includes portions of the Arkansas River in Kansas, the Cimarron River in Kansas and Oklahoma, the Beaver/North Canadian River in Oklahoma, and the Canadian/South Canadian River in New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. These areas do not necessarily have to be occupied by the species at the time of designation, if they are considered essential to the recovery of the species. A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where Federal funding or a Federal permit is involved. It has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not involve Federal funding or permits.

"As a threatened species, the Arkansas River shiner is already protected under the Endangered Species Act wherever it occurs within the Arkansas River Drainage Basin," said Nancy Kaufman, the Service’s regional director for the Southwest Region. "The primary benefit of this designation is to ensure Federal agencies are aware of the requirement to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service whenever they take, fund, or authorize any action that might adversely modify the species’ habitat."

The Service listed the Arkansas River Basin population of the Arkansas River shiner as a threatened species in 1998 and decided at that time that it was not prudent to designate critical habitat. Today’s rule is the result of a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a lawsuit against the Service to require designation of critical habitat.

While the designated critical habitat is in response to the deadline established in the settlement agreement, the Department of the Interior is concerned that final designation raises questions about the species and its habitat needs that may need to be addressed in the future, especially as new information becomes available during the development of a recovery plan and conservation strategy for the species. As soon as practicable, the Interior will initiate a further review of the designation and receive public comment.

The final designation covers five stretches of rivers in four units. Unit 1, which is divided into two parts, includes 500 miles along the Canadian River in New Mexico and the Canadian/South Canadian River in Texas and Oklahoma. Unit 2 includes 161 miles along the Beaver/North Canadian River in Oklahoma. Unit 3 includes 134 miles along the Cimarron River in Kansas and Oklahoma. Unit 4 includes 353 miles along the Arkansas River in Kansas.

The only difference from the proposed designation published last June by the Service is that a 12.4 mile length of the Arkansas River running through urban Wichita, Kansas in Unit 4 was deleted from the final designation. Upon further review, the Service determined that this stretch of river had been modified through damming and channelization to the point where it no longer can provide habitat for the shiner.

The Service designated 300 feet on either side of the rivers because a relatively intact riparian zone is necessary for the long-term survival of the shiner, allowing for natural flooding patterns, channel adjustments, nutrient input, buffering from sediment and pollutants, and protected side channels and backwater habitats for larvae and juvenile fish. About 97 percent of the riparian area is privately owned; however, the Service does not expect the designation of the corridor to significantly affect livestock grazing or other agricultural activities.

The Arkansas River shiner is a small (maximum length of two inches), silvery minnow with a small, dorsally flattened head and a rounded snout. The species once inhabited wide, sandy-bottomed rivers and streams throughout the Arkansas River Basin in Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Today, the fish is found primarily in scattered reaches of the Canadian River in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It requires at least 80 consecutive miles of river to complete its life cycle.

Threats to the shiner include habitat loss from construction of water impoundments, reduction of stream flows caused by water diversions or groundwater withdrawals, declines in water quality, and possible inadvertent collection of shiners by the commercial bait fish industry. Competition from the Red River shiner, an introduced species, also threatens the Arkansas River shiner.

The Service is committed to working with state and local governments, conservation and producer groups, private landowners and others to develop a recovery plan to conserve the Arkansas River shiner.

"The recovery plans with the most success are the ones that get communities involved right at the beginning," Kaufman said. "We especially look forward to working in partnership to address water conservation efforts that will benefit not only the Arkansas River shiner but also other species."

A recovery plan is a recommended course of action leading to recovering the species, but it is not legally binding. Some possible actions include: (1) increasing efforts to improve irrigation efficiency and implement appropriate water conservation measures; (2) monitoring introductions of non-indigenous (i.e., non-native) species, in addition to developing and implementing measures to minimize the accidental or intentional release of non-indigenous species; (3) monitoring and maintaining existing aggregations of Arkansas River shiners throughout the Arkansas River basin; (4) conducting studies to further define biological and life history requirements of the shiner; and, (5) pursuing restoration of extirpated populations in suitable, unoccupied habitat.

Recovery plans do not of themselves commit personnel or funds nor obligate an agency, entity, or person to implement the various tasks listed in the plan. Once a plan has been drafted for the Arkansas River shiner, it will be available for public review and comment prior to adoption.

The Service will publish the critical habitat designation in the Federal Register in early April. It will be available on the Service's website at southwest.fws.gov under Hot Topics. Copies can also be requested by writing to Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 222 South Houston, Suite A, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74127.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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