Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Fish Passage in the Ozark Highlands of Missouri
Midwest Region, June 19, 2012
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Threatened Niangua Darter
Threatened Niangua Darter - Photo Credit: Nicole Stevenson- Missouri Department of Conservation
Griffith Road, final crossing to be replaced in the Little Niangua River watershed.
Griffith Road, final crossing to be replaced in the Little Niangua River watershed. - Photo Credit: Heather Calkins- Columbia FWCO

In 1994, recovery team members from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, realized that low water crossings were a major threat to recovery of the Niangua darter. Low water crossings were varied in length and height and had different sized culverts to allow for passage of water. In most cases the culverts prevented the movement of aquatic organisms including the Niangua darter. The bottom of some culverts were over eight feet higher than the downstream bottom elevation of the stream, preventing fish from making their way upstream through these perched culverts.The recovery team worked with both county and state highway departments to design a better crossing (piered structures) that would provide a safer bridge for the public and would also allow for aquatic organism passage.

Unfortunately, these piered structures were expensive and could not be built without financial assistance. The Little Niangua River is the most important stream for the Niangua darter. It was decided that replacements of these low water crossings would be a priority. Fourteen bridges are located on the Little Niangua River within the range of the Niangua darter. Four are piered and not an impediment to aquatic organisms.

In 2004, the Columbia FWCO and the MDC teamed up through the National Fish Passage Program (NFPP) to replace five low-water crossings in the Little Niangua River (LNR) watershed. Other partners that have made the replacements possible include Dallas and Hickory County Commissions, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation (MCHF). An additional four have been replaced using LNR Region Missouri Department of Transportation Stream Mitigation Funds. To date, nine low water crossings have been replaced and the final crossing in this watershed was funded this year through NFPP. The Griffith Road crossing is the last, but not the least of the barriers and once completed more than 50 miles of contiguous stream habitat will have been reconnected.

MDC scientist Dr. Doug Novinger has been studying changes in Niangua darter populations in response to these projects. They’ve found Niangua darters upstream of most of the replaced crossings and an increase in overall species diversity. In mid-May several Niangua darters were spotted below the structure, but none above. Hopefully by the next time this site is sampled, once the crossing has been replaced, observers will find Niangua darters utilizing the newly available upstream habitat.

Contact Info: Heather Calkins, 573-445-5001 ext 29, heather_calkins@fws.gov
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