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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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

January 26, 2000
Contacts: Dave McGillivary 801-524-5001 ext 124
Reed Harris 801-524-5001, ext126
Sharon Rose 303-236-7917 ext 415

Critical Habitat Designated for Endangered Fishes in the Virgin River;
No Significant Changes for Water Users Expected

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 87.5 miles of the Virgin River and its flood plain as critical habitat for two endangered fishes, the woundfin and Virgin River chub.The designation includes the mainstem Virgin River in southwestern Utah, northwestern Arizona, and southeastern Nevada, and extends from the confluence of La Verkin Creek, Utah, downstream to Halfway Wash, Nevada.

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 or protection. The designation does not set up a preserve or refuge nor does it affect activities on private lands unless Federal funding or a Federal permit is involved. The sole impact of the designation is that Federal agencies must consult with the Service before taking actions, issuing permits, or providing funding for activities that might adversely modify or destroy critical habitat.

"As Federally-listed species, the woundfin and Virgin River chub already are protected by the Endangered Species Act," said Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s regional director for the Mountain-Prairie Region. "The designation of critical habitat only affects the activities of Federal agencies and has no effect on a private landowner engaged in private activities that require no federal permit or funding."

"Furthermore, there already has been significant progress made by state, federal and private groups toward the conservation of the species," Morgenweck said. "The Service already has engaged in consultations with landowners and others under the other provisions of the Act, and we do not expect the designation of critical habitat to require additional actions on the part of water users."

Currently, the State of Utah, Washington County Water District, Grand Canyon Trust, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working on conservation efforts that include additional water flows for the fish, reduction of competition from exotic fish, construction of barriers to prevent non-native fish from moving into certain reaches of the river and the use of hatcheries to propagate and hold the fish. These efforts will help offset water development projects in the region.

The designation of habitat essential to the woundfin and Virgin River chub will complement the efforts of these groups as they work to establish a cooperative process for the development and management of the Virgin River, including its 100-year flood plain and tributaries, while still providing for native species recovery and conservation. Programs involved in this task include the Virgin River Management Plan, the Virgin Spinedace Conservation Agreement, the Lower Virgin River Recovery Implementation Team, and the proposed Virgin River Resource Management and Recovery Program.

The woundfin is a small silvery minnow that was listed as endangered in 1970 and currently can be found in only 15 percent of its historical range. The Virgin River chub is medium-sized silvery minnow that was listed as endangered in 1989 and is now found in 65 percent of its historical range. Both species have declined in numbers because of loss or degradation of habitat, including channelization, impoundments, loss of water due to diversion projects, and alterations to natural stream flow, temperature, and sediment processes. The introduction and proliferation of nonnative fishes, such as the red shiner, have also contributed to the species’ decline. Both the endangered woundfin and Virgin River chub are vulnerable to further declines because of ongoing and planned urban and water development projects to meet the needs of a rapidly growing human population.

The Service’s published its decision to designate critical habitat for the two Virgin River fish in today’s Federal Register.

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 comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance 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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