Newsroom Midwest Region

News Release
May 19, 2010
Contact:  Georgia Parham
812-334-4261 x 1203


The Niangua Darter – In Missouri, What’s Good for the Fish Can Be Good for the Farm

Five years ago, the U.S. Senate designated the third Friday in May as Endangered Species Day.  This year, Endangered Species Day is May 21, an opportunity to raise awareness about imperiled plants, animals, and habitats, and to demonstrate ways that others can help conserve these resources.  The following is an example of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working with others to recover endangered plants, animals and habitats.
Niangua darters and cattle don’t mix.  How could they?  Darters need clear, shallow pools in streams with gravel or rocky bottoms.  They can’t tolerate silty water.  Cattle often depend on such streams for water, wading in, churning up silt, and making living conditions for sensitive species like the darter impossible.  

Darters and cattle don’t mix, but in Missouri, they do live side by side.

The majority of the land within the federally threatened Niangua darter’s range is privately owned, and that means that cooperation from landowners is essential to the recovery of this species.  For the past decade, the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Missouri has been working with private landowners and other partners, such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Services Agency to restore habitat critical to the survival of the Niangua darter.  

“Because the darter occurs mostly in stream habitats in private ownership, we couldn’t be successful with recovery efforts without the willing and voluntary participation of our landowners,” says the Missouri State Private Lands Coordinator Kelly Srigley Werner.  “They are our biggest asset in this partnership.”

Over the past 10 years, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife  Program in Missouri has worked with 22 landowners on 28 projects within the darter’s range, either directly on streams known to support Niangua darter populations, or in upstream tributaries that flow into those streams. In 2009, $80,000 was awarded to the Missouri Private Lands Office to help landowners through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in Tavern Creek.  Three of those projects are ready for construction and two are being developed.

It is the partnerships that make this effort a success.  By pooling resources, funds go farther for everyone.  Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Wild Turkey Federation, the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, the Missouri Bird Conservation Initiative, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Services Agency all have a stake in helping landowners in this region.  The efforts benefit the darter, but the effects go far beyond this little fish.  Such work improves riparian habitats to benefit migratory and game birds, and healthy streams that support other aquatic life and the people who live in the region.

Projects are aimed at improving water quality for the darter by practices such as fencing riparian areas to exclude cattle, stabilizing stream banks, and planting trees in riparian corridors.  The practices that have been put into place help to improve water quality and Niangua darter habitat by decreasing the amount of sediment entering these waters, and increasing the ability of riparian vegetation to trap sediment and filter out excess nutrients from run-off before it enters the stream.  

One big challenge where Niangua darter occurs on private lands is helping landowners with their cattle operations when their only watering source is streams.  Also, agricultural producers often need to use vehicles to cross streams to get from one field to another and to move cattle from one grazing field to the other.  The Service and their partners help landowners alleviate these challenges by providing alternative watering sources and reinforced stream crossings to support heavy equipment.  This reduces sedimentation, nutrification, and erosion by getting cattle out of streams and helping to stabilize substrates when landowners need to access fields across stream habitats. We are also providing funds for "green" practices that rely on solar power for pumps to move water around the farm.  We share these ideas with other landowners through demonstration days and cook outs to help generate interest in these types of activities.

Another big problem in Niangua darter habitats is that substrates associated with the streams are composed of loose, gravelly sediments which slough off of banks easily when erosion begins.  Some landowners have lost up to 50 feet of field width due to excessive erosion problems.  While expensive, Missouri Private Lands works with Missouri Department of Conservation engineering experts to design rock hard points and toe rock configurations to move the energy of the stream away from the cut bank.  This allows for natural revegetation of the streambank and also stabilizes in-stream substrates.

Native trees are planted along riparian corridors where trees have historically been removed for row crops, grazing cattle or for hay.  Native trees help restore the stream corridor, provide shade for regulating water temperatures and also provide cover and carbon to the aquatic system as a whole.  

“Overall, we have helped landowners stabilize 4.5 miles of streambank and protect and restore 264.5 acres of riparian corridor to directly benefit the Niangua darter these efforts have additional downstream benefits especially where we can reconnect riparian corridor habitat,” Srigley Werner says. “It wasn't easy to get started, but we are now a recognized partner at landowner appreciation dinners, which is really a nice place to be.”  

The private lands projects have helped landowners achieve productive cattle operations in ways they could not have imagined without the help of the Service and its partners.  They also appreciate and desire high water quality.  
“Working hand in hand with these guys gives the Service credibility and allows us to "walk in each others’ shoes" for a while,” says Srigley Werner.  “Landowners understand that we are trying to protect the fish, and we understand they are trying to make ends meet for their families in the best way they know how.”  

The Missouri Private Lands Office, through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners who voluntarily wish to implement habitat improvement projects for the benefit of Federal Trust Species, such as the Niangua darter.  Contact Kelly Srigley Werner, 573-234-2132 ext 112 or e-mail Kelly at

For information on endangered species work in the Midwest, visit

These gray-headed coneflowers are typical of the grasses produced after seeding to improve pastures. They benefit streams and serve as important habitat for grassland-dependent songbirds and pollinators. Photo by Kelly Srigley Werner.