Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Developing Partnerships That Conserve Species And a Way of Life
California-Nevada Offices , July 3, 2007
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Restored Channel
Restored Channel - Photo Credit: n/a
Partners At The Big Warm Spring Project
Partners At The Big Warm Spring Project - Photo Credit: n/a
Big Spring
Big Spring - Photo Credit: n/a










By Jeannie Stafford
Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office

Creating partnerships that conserve and protect native species as well as conserve and protect economic and social values can be a challenge.  Prior to 2002, a partnership between the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe and the Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office (Service) was unheard of.  The construction of a catfish farm on Tribal property at Big Warm Springs within critical habitat for a listed species caused significant tension between the Tribe and the Service. 

The Duckwater Shoshone Reservation is an isolated rural reservation which hosts the largest thermal spring in Nevada.  The reservation has a unique hydrogeologic system that is not typical of most arid climates.  Geothermal activity carries warm groundwater upward forming numerous hot springs.  The 94°F water of Big Warm Spring was identified as the most important habitat within the Railroad Valley springfish’s (Crenichthys nevadae) historic range. 

The 3,850 acre reservation is home to about 150 residents.  The principle use within the reservation is agriculture.  An irrigation system which begins at the spring is used for production of alfalfa, broom grass, and grain.  The earliest farming on the reservation included free flowing water, or open irrigation.

In 2002, the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, was allowed access to the Duckwater Shoshone Reservation and began negotiating one of Services most successful Tribal partnerships.  In early 2003, the Service signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tribe to begin implementing recovery actions for the springfish while preserving the Tribes economic, social, agricultural, and cultural way of life.

The Service not only negotiated an agreement with the Tribe but also brought funding, multiple partners, and technical support to the table.  In 2004, the Tribe received Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program funding, Tribal Wildlife Grant funding, and Tribal Land Owner Incentive Program funding to restore Big Warm Spring totaling $650,000.

In late 2004, negotiations to decommission the catfish farm and remove all aquacultural facilities were complete.  Restoration of the spring system was designed to not only restore the stream channels and 68 acres of wetland habitat next to the spring, but to also improve delivery of Tribal irrigation water by constructing a new irrigation intake and pipeline delivery system.  The restoration improved the water transport along the main channel by restoring natural form and function, and restored the main spring source to accommodate appropriate flow rates.  In addition to fencing the newly restored spring and wetland habitat, the partners also restored 45 acres of upland habitat.

To prepare for re-introduction of the Railroad Valley springfish into designated critical habitat, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources and Water Resources Divisions, and the Service treated the spring, removing all non-native fishes.  A Safe Harbor Agreement, only the second agreement of this type with a Tribe, has been written for the reintroduction of the springfish.  The agreement will allow the Tribe’s continued use of the irrigation system, cattle grazing, and implementation of recovery actions identified in the 1994 Recovery Plan.  It is anticipated the Safe Harbor Agreement will be signed this fall with reintroduction of the Railroad Valley springfish immediately following.

Strong partners and a willingness to come to the table created a partnership that will assist in the recovery of one of Nevada’s threatened species and at the same time, preserve the Tribes traditional way of life.  A quote from Tribal Chairman Jerry Millett earlier this year sums up this important partnership:

“There is a great sense of joy and fulfillment in my heart seeing the restored spring with the stream channel flowing in the location the Great Spirit intended it to go rather than the man-made direction,” said Jerry Millett, Tribal Chairman for the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe.  “Our goal as a Tribe is to continue into the future.  Improving health in the land and water for the preservation of the unique and ancient springfish is part of the Duckwater Peoples legacy for our future generations.  The success of the Big Warm Spring Restoration projects is founded in the collaborative process and persistent communication involving the Tribe, the individual tribal business owner, the Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the State Water Engineer’s Office.”

Contact Info: Jeannie Stafford, 775-861-6300, jeannie_stafford@fws.gov
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