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The Oregon Chub Makes Its Way Upstream Towards Recovery
by Kim Garner, Brian Bangs and Paul Scheerer
Photo Credit: USFWS
It's a small minnow in an area known for large salmon, but the Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) has garnered a lot of attention from federal and state agency biologists, academic professionals, land managers and many others.
The chub is unique to the Willamette River Valley of western Oregon, inhabiting beaver ponds, oxbows, stable backwater sloughs, and flooded marshes. In the last 100 years, these off-channel habitats have been drastically reduced due to changes in seasonal flows resulting from the construction of dams, channelization of the Willamette River and its tributaries, and draining of wetlands for agriculture. This loss of habitat, combined with predation by introduced non-native game fishes led to a sharp decline in the chub's abundance and distribution.
The Oregon chub was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1993, when there were only eight populations left. As a result of the efforts of multiple conservation partners, the status of the Oregon chub has improved steadily since the time of listing, and in 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized its improved condition by changing its status from endangered to the less critical category of threatened.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The Oregon Chub Working Group was formed in 1991, with participating representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State University, and the McKenzie River Trust. The group has been proactive in conserving and restoring habitat for the Oregon chub and raising public awareness of the species.
One of the most abundant chub populations is an introduced population occurring on private land. In 2010, a programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement between the Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife gave assurances that additional regulatory restriction under the ESA would not be required of landowners willing to implement actions that conserve Oregon chub on their property. To date, seven landowners have enrolled in a Safe Harbor Agreement and introduced Oregon chub into ponds on their land.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates several large dams – primarily for flood control and power generation – in the Willamette River Valley. Their recent river flow management plans have sought to restore floodplain processes by altering the volume and timing of water releases from dams to mimic historical flows and reconnect floodplain habitats. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also working closely with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct a study to identify the flow levels, temperature regimes, and habitat characteristics that may allow Oregon chub to better co-exist with non-native fishes in connected habitats.
Additionally, a marking study by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is currently underway to detect movement of Oregon chub between existing populations. Movement between habitats is important to maintain genetic diversity. Two marked Oregon chub were recently discovered moving upstream between habitats—the first time such movement has been documented.
Building on the success of these partnerships, the momentum of recovering Oregon chub has continued and the species has recently met the criteria for delisting laid out in the recovery plan. With 75 known populations as of 2012, biologists are enthusiastic that a recommendation to delist will be forthcoming in the very near future.
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